Shaiva Siddhānta (Śaiva Siddhānta, Śaivasiddhānta, Saiva Siddhanta, Caiva cittāntam), “the established conclusion of Shaivism,” is a school of thought and ritual practice based on twenty-eight Shaiva āgamas or tantras, authoritative scriptures in Sanskrit that proclaim their origins as divine knowledge revealed by Shiva. The system was originally grounded in a dualist doctrine that regards Shiva (pati or Lord) and souls (pashu/paṡu) as eternally distinct, divine entities; materiality (pasha/pāṡa), which makes up the rest of the universe, is inanimate, but also real. Rites of initiation and the daily worship of Shiva were understood as necessary acts leading to liberation. The earliest known Siddhāntin āgamas are first seen in northern India around the 6th century CE. From then until the 12th century, the school spread across India, its members connected with monastic institutions and temples; a number of its preceptors became royal gurus. After this period, however, Shaiva Siddhānta remained active only in the southern Tamil country, where its doctrines developed along such different lines that some scholars mark it as a separate system. From the 12th to the 14th centuries, preceptor-scholars wrote a series of doctrinal works in Tamil and Sanskrit that together came to be called the Meykaṇṭa Cāttiraṅkaḷ (Meykanda Shastras). This collection became the new Shaiva Siddhānta “canon” in the Tamil country, containing a number of features that move away from the doctrines of the earlier Sanskrit āgamic literature. While the Brahmin priests focused on the rituals, especially those performed “for the sake of others” (parārthapūjā) (i.e., temple rituals), high-caste, non-Brahmin preceptors practiced Shiva worship “for one’s own sake” (ātmārthapūjā), established monasteries, wrote theological works and commentaries on the Meykaṇṭa Cāttiraṅkaḷ, and embraced as part of their tradition not only the āgamas but also the Vedas (and especially the medieval devotional literature of the Tamil Tirumuṟai), so that the distinction between Shaiva Siddhānta and Tamil Shaiva bhakti has become blurred. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Dravidian cultural nationalists attempted to appropriate Shaiva Siddhānta by portraying it as the original, “pre-Aryan” religion of the Tamil people, a move that led to the common but inaccurate view that the school is essentially or originally a Tamil tradition. Today, Shaiva Siddhānta is seen mostly in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, in the ritual traditions of the gurukkaḷ temple priests and ōtuvar singers, and in monastic institutions, as well as in temples and monastic organizations in the Hindu diaspora.
The origins and early history of Shaiva Siddhānta have only recently begun to be understood. Goodall 2004 and Sanderson 2009 present the latest understanding of Shaiva Siddhānta through the 12th century, although beginners should start with the concise summary in Ganesan 2003 and then move on to Sanderson 1990–1991, whose short, dense introduction to early Shaivism puts the early development of Shaiva Siddhānta into new historical and comparative context. Hatley 2010 provides a valuable overview of recent research on early history. Sanderson 2010 summarizes the author’s research on the development of Siddhāntin temple ritual, while Davis 1991 offers the most accessible book-length introduction to Shaiva Siddhānta thought and ritual as seen in Sanskrit sources.
Davis, Richard H. Ritual in an Oscillating Universe: Worshiping Śiva in Medieval India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.
Accessible introduction to Shaiva Siddhānta. Important for its explanation of the correlation between doctrine and ritual practice as understood in Sanskrit sources. The scope of discussion is limited to the doctrines and practices that would have been known in the South Indian Chola country of the 11th and 12th centuries.
Ganesan, T. “Schools of Śaivasiddhānta.” In Śivajñānabodha: With the Laghuṭīkā of Ṡivāgrayogī. By T. Ganesan, vii–xxvii. Chennai, India: Ṡrī Aghoraśivācārya Trust, 2003.
The introduction offers a simple and accessible account of the theological texts both of the early, pan-Indian system and the later Tamil traditions. Available online.
Goodall, Dominic. “Preface: Explanatory Remarks about the Śaiva Siddhānta and Its Treatment in Modern Secondary Literature.” In The Parākhyatantra: A Scripture of the Śaiva Siddhānta. Edited and translated by Dominic Goodall, xiii–xxxiv. Pondicherry, India: Institut français de Pondichéry and École française d’Extrȇme-Orient, 2004.
Useful critique of the scholarly literature on Shaiva Siddhānta, in light of Alexis Sanderson’s and Goodall’s own scholarship on the early history of Siddhānta literature in Sanskrit. Does not treat Tamil Shaiva Siddhānta except to note where scholars have mistaken it for the pan-Indian tradition.
Hatley, Shaman. “Tantric Śaivism in Early Medieval India: Recent Research and Future Directions.” Religion Compass 4.10 (2010): 615–628.
Well-written introduction to the recent scholarship on the earliest extant tantras, the development of different Shaiva schools, their relationship to one another, and comparisons with Buddhist groups.
Sanderson, Alexis. “Conférences de M. Alexis Sanderson: Summary of ‘Tantric Śaivism’: 24 Lectures Delivered at the École Pratique des Hautes Études.” Annuaire: Résumés des conférences et travaux, École pratique des Hautes Études, Ve Section—Sciences Religieuses 99 (1990–1991): 141–144.
An up-to-date summary of the historical origins and development of Shaiva Siddhānta and other Shaiva tantric schools.
Sanderson, Alexis. “The Śaiva Age: The Rise and Dominance of Śaivism during the Early Medieval Period.” In Genesis and Development of Tantrism. Edited by Shingo Einoo, 41–349. Tokyo: Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo, 2009.
A groundbreaking, text-historical study of Sanskrit texts and inscriptions that argues for the importance of tantric Shaivism, including Shaiva Siddhānta, in the religious cultures and societies throughout medieval India, 6th through the 12th centuries CE.
Sanderson, Alexis. “Ritual for Oneself and Ritual for Others.” In Ritual Dynamics and the Science of Ritual. Vol. 2, Body, Performance, Agency, and Experience. Edited by Angelos Chaniotis, Silke Leopold, Hendrik Schulze, et al., 9–20. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2010.
Accessible summary of his argument, well documented in previous articles, about how the ritual worship of Shiva, as known from the earliest āgamas and ritual manuals, was transformed and adapted to temple ritual settings. All of his publications, as well as many useful handouts for the specialist, are available online.
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