Shaivite Sampradaya

Shaivites are followers of Lord Shiva and Shaivism is one of the oldest traditions of Hinduism. They believe in Shiva being the ultimate Godhead. Sacred ash is used as a sign of Shaivism. The Nayanmars saints of South India were responsible for the propagation of Shaivism in ancient India. It encompasses mysticism, systems of philosophy, rituals, legends and practices of yoga. Devotees often worship God in the form of a linga symbolizing the universe.

Shiva is considered to be the Creator and the Created. Shiva means pure, auspicious. Shiva is one who is not affected by the 3 gunas of Sattva, Rajas and Thamas. Hence He is also referred to as Trigunateetha. One who utters the name of Shiva gets purified. He is worshipped by uttering his 108 or 1008 names. The Rudram Chamakam extols his greatness. Lord Shiva is the Supreme Reality. He is eternal, formless, beginningless, endless, causeless, ever free and not limited by time and space. Shakti is the conscious energy of the Lord which pervades the whole universe.

Lord Shiva frees all souls from the bondage of birth and death. He assumes the form of a Guru due to his intense love for mankind. Maya is the cause of the universe and human beings go through endless cycles of birth and death due to their karma which is due to maya and avidya or ignorance.

There are many branches of Shaivism like Kashmir Shaivism, Shaiva Siddhanta and Vira Shaivism.

Kashmiri Shaivism

It has its origins in Kashmir hence the name. It embodies the philosophy of trika yoga practice which develops awareness of kundalini energy to the point where it flows without obstruction and gives rise to the experience of the infinite self, the spirit that underlies all reality. It puts us in touch with our subtle body which is a system of energy channels and chakras and gives us an understanding of the way it functions. As we stay attuned to this energy, we become established in a state of joy and well being. The word ‘Trika’ means three fold. It is based on the three energies of Shiva para, parapara and apara(supreme, intermediate and lower or wordly. The Trika system helps us to rise from the lower wordly energy to the Supreme energy of Lord Shiva through the cognitive intermediate energy. Development of the intermediate cognitive energy through various methods is the goal of trika philosophy.

It considers the Shakti aspect or the phenomenal world as real which exists in Chit or consciousness. Its goal is to merge in Shiva or Universal Consciousness. This is done with the help of knowledge, yoga and divine grace. It is a monistic philosophy, all are one and that one is Shiva. Everyone is endowed with free will and all are essentially divine but are unaware due to ignorance which can be dispelled only by the light of knowledge. Divine grace or ‘shaktipat’ through an enlightened master eliminates this ignorance provided the disciple has totally surrendered to the Guru.

The two well known saints of Kashmir Shaivism are Abhinavgupta who wrote many important works and commentaries and the more famous saint of recent times Swami Muktananda who impacted thousands of seekers through ‘Shaktipat ‘awakening.

The Shiva Sutras are the scriptural authority of Kashmir Shaivism. It was revealed by Lord Shiva and consists of 77 sutras detailing the nature of consciousness.

Swami Muktananda

He founded the Gurudev Siddha Peeth which propagated the Siddha Yoga teachings. The teachings stated that Self realization was the goal of all human beings and it could be achieved by all through ‘Shaktipat’ or spiritual initiation. By this we gain entry into our inner spiritual realms. Then through our spiritual practices, spiritual awareness unfolds. These teachings spring from the timeless scriptural traditions of Kashmir Shaivism as well as from the experience of various Siddha masters. It advocates scriptural study, meditation, chanting and selfless service as a means to self realization.

Shaiva Siddhanta

The Shaiva Siddhanta tradition was practiced all over India initially but after Muslim dominion in the North, it was mainly restricted to South India where it merged with the Bhakti movement of the Nayanmars. The reason for its popularity is that its teachings and doctrines are considered to be very logical and scientific. There is no place for superstition or blind faith. It postulates three entities Lord, Jiva and the relationship between the two through maya. The jivas can transcend maya only by the grace of Lord Shiva through a guru who has already been liberated. Liberation can be achieved through serving the Lord, performing devotional tasks, practice of yoga and meditation and through the path of knowledge. After liberation the jivas experience bliss and though duality between lord Shiva and the jiva still exists, the unity of experience prevails. The jivas who become free continue to live on the earth, maintaining inner purity and practicing austerities.

The first Guru of Shaiva Siddhantam was Nandinatha followed by Tirumular who was instrumental in making it popular in South India by emphasizing the devotional aspect. His work was carried forward by generations of devotional saints called the Nayanmars


The Nayanmars were devotional saint poets of Tamil Nadu who were staunch devotees of Shiva. There were sixty three of them and their unparalleled love for the Lord was portrayed in the poems of bhakti and love that they composed which are famous even today. These saints moved from place to place and temple to temple singing the glory of Shiva. The meaning of the word Nayanmar was head or chieftain. They were raised to this status due to their devotion to Lord Shiva. They considered themselves not only as the servants of the Lord but servants of the devotees of the Lord such was their humility and egolessness. They were both men and women belonging to all castes and classes of society, from Brahmin to householders. Their devotion began with external worship leading to internal knowledge ending with communion and union with the Divine. Their hymns glorified the Vedas and the ancient sacred way of life. Their hymns are sung even today in temples after the conclusion of rituals.

Of these four of them Appar, Sundarar, Sambandhar and Manikavachakar are very famous and their works have been compiled into a single collection of poems named Tirumurai by Nambi Andar Nambi.

Some of their hymns

O Shiva, my prostrations to you,

Look at my plight and bestow your grace

Melt my heart, make me give up my wordly desires

Make me your slave

O Lord remove this body and grant me liberation.

O Shiva, You are the light

You are the sun and the moon

You are the stars

You wear holy ash

You are the ultimate

I call you with love

Please respond to my calls

And come to my rescue

Vira Shaivism

It was propagated in Karnataka by Shri Basaveshwara. It rejected caste system, Vedic authority, ritualistic worship and concepts of karma. According to this system Shiva is the Supreme Being and can be worshipped through the Linga. The linga is not the image of Shiva but Shiva himself. Shiva is the linga and Jiva is the anga or part. The goal in Vira Shaivism is the union with Shiva through the linga. The first step is initiation into the Vira Shaiva fold with the linga being worn encased in a pendant around the neck and worshipped throughout life. Hence Vira Shaivites are also called Lingayats(bearers of the Linga). The disciple has to then follow the ‘eight aids to faith’ which are obedience to the guru, wearing the rudraksha, reverence to the all gurus of the Vira Shaiva tradition, worship of the linga, wearing holy ash, purification through holy water called tirtha, partaking of guru’s Prasad and repetition of ‘Om Namah Shivaya’.

They follow the Sat –Sthala Siddhanta which is a six stage path of devotion and surrender. The six stages are devotion, selfless service, seeking the grace of Shiva, experiencing all as Shiva, egoless refuge in Shiva and oneness with Shiva.


Basaveshwara was a philosopher and social reformer who was against the caste system and strict Hindu rituals and spread social awareness through his poetry called Vachanas. He used the Shiva linga as a means to attain spiritual enlightenment. He was a man ahead of his times and preached rational and progressive thoughts. He raised the moral level of public life.  He admitted everyone, high and low into his fold and established social democracy.

Some of his Vachanas-

My eyes are enriched with the vision of your form

My tongue speaks the nectar of your divine name

My ears are filled with your glory

My mind is full of your thoughts

O Lord at your lotus feet

I am there as a bee.

The rich can build temples

What can I, a poor man do

I will build a different kind of temple

My body is the shrine

My legs are the pillars

My head is the golden tower

Others built temples which are immovable

But I can carry my body temple wherever I go

Even if it perishes O Lord

My soul is everlasting and immortal.

The Shaivite Sampradayas are divided into 2 types-

1)   Nath sampradaya

2)   Dashanami Sampradaya

1) Nath Sampradaya

This Sampradaya is one of the oldest and most remarkable Sampradayas. The followers wear saffron, sometimes are half naked, smear their arms and body in ash. The word Nath means Lord or protector which was attributed to Lord Shiva. The main aim of the Natha Siddhas is to avoid rebirth and attain liberation in this life itself. In this Sampradaya lineage is passed on only through direct initiation between Guru and shishya. The initiation is conducted in a formal ceremony and a part of the spiritual energy or Shakti of the Guru is passed on to the disciple. He is formally given a new name.

The Nath Sampradaya was broadly divided into Nandinatha and Adinatha Sampradaya.

Nandinatha Sampradaya

It was founded by Saint Nandinatha who is said to have initiated 8 disciples to spread Shaiva Siddhanta philosophy all over the world. Of these, two of them Patanjali and Tirumular are most important. It is a Siddha Yoga tradition and the Gurus are all siddhas or realized souls with great miraculous powers. These Siddhas quickened the spiritual progress of their disciples. The 8 disciples in turn had thousands of disciples who have carried forward this Sampradaya through generations.


He was the author of Yoga Sutras which is one of the most respected texts on the practice of yoga. It teaches the Ashtanga process of yoga(eight limbed). The focus is on the mind, the ceasing of all mental fluctuations and focusing the mind on a single thought. Patanjali considered the ego not a separate entity. The yoga sutras are founded on Samkhya philosophy. It is considered that ‘Om’ which is the central element of Hinduism is the most efficient method of achieving the goal of yoga. Concentration and continuous striving are the means to liberation. The aim of yoga is to free the individual from the clutches of matter for which intellectual knowledge is inadequate. The yoga sutras incorporated many other philosophical systems of those times like the Samadhi techniques which were said to be directly borrowed from the Buddhists with the addition of divine interpretations of mental absorption. Its teachings like Non Violence were also influenced by Jainism.


He was a Shaiva saint and scholar from Kailas. He wrote a compilation of 3000 verses called Thirumandiram.  He is considered to have been in Samadhi for 3000 years and would come out from Samadhi once every year and compose one verse. The Thirumandiram deals with the practical and theoretical aspects of Shaiva philosophy. By the practice of ashtanga yoga a seeker attains God hood. With one pointed meditation, he attains the grace of the Lord. He placed great importance on the mantra ‘Om Namah Shivaya’.

Some of his verses are as follows-

He planted his feet on my heart

All impurities he shattered

By opening his eye of grace

He made me see the truth that pervades all

He granted me the vision of the Lord

Which even the Devas do not know of

He granted me his infinite grace

And supreme bliss was mine

The pulse fails, the mind has lost its hold

The senses five that sweets enjoyed left their home

The fair beloved and treasures remain back

Nothing remains when life departs.

Adinatha Sampradaya

It is considered to be founded by Maharishi Adinatha. Followers of this tradition embrace sanyasa, renounce householder life and live thereafter as naked sadhus. They live alone in caves, huts and buildings away from inhabitation by people. The lineage had rishis who were called Navnathas or 9 disciples like Matsyendranath and Gorakshanath.

Some consider Adinath to mean Lord Dattatreya, the incarnation of the Divine Trinity Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva.In the nath tradition, He is considered as an incarnation of Lord Shiva and as the Adi guru(First teacher). He is depicted with three heads, symbolizing past, present and future and the three states of consciousness, waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep.

In Datta parampara, the first avathar is Shri Padh Shri Vallabh and the second is Shri Narasimha Saraswati. The others are considered to be Akkalkot Swami, Shri Swami Samarth, Shri Vasudevanand Saraswati, Shri Manik Prabhu, Shri Krishna Saraswati and Shri Shirdi Sai Baba.


Matsyendranath is considered to be the founder of the Kaula tradition of the Nath Sampradaya. He was called Vishwa Yogi because his teachings were universal. Lord Shiva is said to have created him and given him a human form from the 5 elements of air, water, fire, earth and sky to maintain absolute purity. He then bestowed on him all his knowledge, thoughts and ideals.  The Kaula tradition focuses on the unity of the spirit with God and attainment of enlightenment It advocates  love and surrender to the guru wherein the disciple receives direct experience of his Shakti(potent spiritual energy) to realise his own spiritual self. He initiated the process of Laya, Hatha and Raja Yoga.

Gorakshanath or Gorakhnath

He was the disciple of Matsyendranath and is considered to be the greatest of the naths. He is called the ‘eternal saint’ as he is said to be around for thousands of years watching the welfare of humanity. He is supposed to be in such an exalted level that some say that his level even surpasses that of his Guru’s. He is even considered a direct incarnation of Shiva. He propagated hatha yoga which is the practice of postures and breath control to energize the subtle channels or nadis and laya yoga which is the yoga using principles of working with sound vibration (nadi). He is said to be the supreme manifestation of supreme divinity. Some people even consider him to be the Saint Mahavatar Babaji.

These 2 saints along with the other saints were the 9 Navnathas. They had 84 disciples who propagated Nath Sampradaya all over the world.

The Nath Sampradaya was traditionally divided into twelve streams or panthas. These were not a subdivision but an amalgamation of separate groups descended either from Matsyendranath, Gorakshanath or one of their students.

The Nath Panthas followed the guru marga. It protected the culture of Hindu Dharma. It was very popular among the general masses. All the four streams of knowledge, yoga, dharma and worship culminated in these Nath Panthas. They toiled endlessly for universal goodwill and public welfare and hymns were composed in abundance for reliving the sufferings of the masses.

The panthas worshipped idols and Vedas, casteism and religion were not given any importance. Anyone who followed strict celibacy, control over speech, physical and mental purity, faith in knowledge, no liquor and animal meat could join the nath pantha to become a yogi.

Sant Dnyaneshwar

Gorakshanatha is considered to have bestowed knowledge on Trimbakpant who was the great grandfather of Dnyaneshwar. Dnyaneshwar was a Marathi saint of the Nath tradition. He entered during a period of spiritual degeneration, superstitions, animal sacrifices and worship of many deities. He began writing the Bhagavad Geetha in Marathi called Dnyaneshwari and completed it at the young age of 15 such was his spiritual knowledge. This brought the Geetha to the common man who did not know the Sanskrit language but only the local language Marathi. He took samadhi at the tender age of 21.

He laid the foundation of the Bhakti movement and propagated the Varkari tradition where thousands went on foot in pilgrimage singing devotional songs and dancing to Pandharpur where the famous shrine of Lord Vithoba was installed. He advocated devotion guided by knowledge.

Nimbargi Maharaj

He was the disciple of Revananath, one of the Navnaths of Lord Dattatreya.  He gave discourses and spread bhakti among the masses. He started the Nimbargi Sampradaya.

Shri Nisargadatta Maharaj

He was a saint who belonged to the Inchegiri branch of the Navnath Sampradaya. He considered that one could know the final reality by mental discrimination. The purpose of spirituality was to know who one was. He always gave spontaneous discourses based on his own direct experience with the Ultimate Reality. According to him the root cause of all problems was the mind’s false identification with the ego and one has to listen to the Guru’s words and practice it to differentiate the real from the unreal. The path of devotion was advocated to be the best path to achieve this, he stated. According to him, God does not exist independently from his creation. His knowledge and divinity shone as he preached to devotees from all walks of life without distinction of caste or creed. He advocated the three fold practice of shravana, manana and nidhidhyasana ie- deeply hearing, pondering and meditating upon the eternal truth ’Tat Twam Asi(I am That)

His famous book ‘I am that’ transformed thousands of people wherein he asked them to contemplate on the ultimate reality through purity of mind and devotion.

2)  Dashanami Sampradaya

It was a tradition of Ekadandi sanyasins or wandering renunciants who carried a single staff. They advocated the Advaita Vedanta tradition as the existence of the self in its natural condition indicated by the destruction of all its specific qualities with its goal as moksha Adi Shankara established this Sampradaya under a grouping of ten names. He organized the monks of these ten names under four mathas or monasteries, Dwarka in the west, Puri in the east, Shringeri in the south and Badri in the north. Each math was headed by one of his main four disciples. The names in the South are Puri, Saraswati and Bharati,in the west are Tirth and Ashram, in the East are Vana and aranya and in the North are Giri,Parvat and Sagara.

They practiced the Vedic and yogic principles and many of them were celibates though there were a few householder disciples like Lahiri Mahasaya and Sri Yukteshwar Giri.

Some of the extreme ekadandis are the Naga Sadhus who went about naked and are usually prominent at Kumbha Melas.

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