In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Shaivism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Tantric Shaivism
  • Kāpālikas, Kālāmukhas, and Lākulas
  • Śākta Traditions
  • Vīraśaivism

Hinduism Shaivism
Peter Bisschop
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 January 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0051


The study of Shaivism has seen a great surge the last few decades. While it has always been recognized that Shaivism, together with Vaishnavism, constitutes one of the major traditions of Hinduism, it has become increasingly clear that Shaivism, in fact, played a key role in the development of Brahmanical Hinduism. This is mainly due to the important work done by Alexis Sanderson and others. The roots of early Shaivism can be traced back to the worship of the Vedic deity Rudra, but it is only in the centuries after the start of the Common Era that there is clear and reliable evidence for the existence of organized sectarian worship of Rudra-Shiva, with the appearance of the Pāśupatas, or “followers of Paśupati.” In the subsequent centuries, the Pāśupata movement rapidly spread throughout the north of India and different forms of Shaivism arose, giving rise to tantric traditions. In the south of India, the Shaiva religion acquired a distinctive devotional character. During the early medieval period, Shaivism became the dominant religious tradition of many Hindu regional kingdoms and practically functioned as a state religion in many areas of the Indian subcontinent, while also having a noteworthy impact upon processes of state formation in Southeast Asia. In the early 21st century Shaivism remains a characteristic feature of Hinduism.

General Overviews

Two accessible up-to-date introductions on the historical development of the Shaiva sectarian traditions are Lorenzen, et al. 1987 and Flood 2003. An early work that is still very popular, although in various regards outdated, is Bhandarkar 1913. The section on Shaivism in Gonda 1977 provides an encyclopedic survey of different types of medieval Shaiva literature. Sanderson 2009 is a thorough and crucial study of the rise of Shaivism during the early medieval period, showing its pivotal role with reference to numerous epigraphic records. A handy collection of such records is Pathak 1960. A survey of the teachings of some Shaiva philosophical schools is provided by Dasgupta 1955, but there is still a need for a more comprehensive and informed survey of the kaleidoscopic landscape of the doctrines of the different Shaiva philosophical and theological schools.

  • Bhandarkar, R. G. Vaiṣṇavism, Śaivism and Minor Religious Systems. Strassburg, Germany: K.J. Trübner, 1913.

    An early classic, still widely read because of its distribution in India by Motilal Banarsidass, but significant parts of it are now outdated. Its section on Shaivism is mostly concerned with the earliest period.

  • Dasgupta, Surendranath. A History of Indian Philosophy. Vol. 5, The Southern Schools of Śaivism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1955.

    The last volume of Dasgupta’s monumental account of the history of Indian philosophy, covering not only “southern schools” such as the Tamil Śaiva Siddhānta and Vīraśaivism, but also subjects like Shaiva philosophy in the Purāṉas and the doctrine of the Pāśupatas.

  • Flood, Gavin. “The Śaiva Traditions.” In The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism. Edited by Gavin Flood, 200–228. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003.

    Provides a concise general introduction to the historical development of Shaiva sectarian traditions, in particular tantric schools, following the model of Sanderson’s groundbreaking work.

  • Gonda, Jan. Medieval Religious Literature in Sanskrit. A History of Indian Literature 2.1. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1977.

    A bibliographic survey of the huge corpus of medieval Vaishnava, Shaiva, and Shakta religious literature written in Sanskrit. Chapters 10 to 13 deal with literature related to Shaivism.

  • Lorenzen, David N., et al. “Śaivism: An Overview.” In The Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 13. Edited by Mircea Eliade, 6–20. New York: Collier Macmillan, 1987.

    Starts with a succinct and reliable overview of the history of the Shaiva religious traditions by David Lorenzen, followed by brief entries with bibliographies on various aspects of Shaivism by other scholars in the field.

  • Pathak, V. S. History of Śaiva Cults in Northern India from Inscriptions, 700 A.D. to 1200 A.D. Varanasi, India: Motilal Banarsidass, 1960.

    An important historical survey, which assembles a number of relevant epigraphical records to trace the history of various Shaiva sectarian traditions during the early medieval period.

  • 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, 41–350. Tokyo: Institute of Oriental Culture, 2009.

    A comprehensive historical study, providing the evidence for Sanderson’s central thesis concerning the dominant and pivotal position of Shaivism in the religious landscape of early medieval India.

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