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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Philosophical and Theosophical Theories of Language
  • Contemporary Religious Interpretations

Hinduism Abhinavagupta
David Lawrence
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 January 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 January 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0098


The polymathic Abhinavagupta (c. 950–1020 CE) was a pivotal figure in the histories of Hindu scholastic philosophy, tantra, and aesthetic theory. In long commentaries, he elaborated and augmented the writings on the Pratyabhijñā philosophical theology for the Trika tradition of monistic Kashmiri Shaivism created by Utpaladeva (c. 900–950 CE). While those commentaries are of paramount importance, this thinker’s greatest significance in the history of tantra is probably his effort, in his monumental Tantrāloka and numerous other exegetical works, to systematize and provide a critical philosophical structure to nonphilosophical tantric theology. Abhinavagupta is also well known for his works on Sanskrit poetics, in which he interpreted aesthetic experience as homologous to, and practically approaching, the monistic Shaiva soteriological realization. All these areas of Abhinavagupta’s thought actually have complex interrelations, which makes the organization of studies of them into distinct categories somewhat artificial. Some publications listed in this article have been included under more than one heading, but several more could have been.

General Overviews

Monistic Kashmiri Shaivism comprises a number of tantric lineages, including particular varieties of Kaula and Krama (also Shakta movements), Trika, and Spanda, that developed and flourished in the Kashmir region between approximately the 9th to 13th centuries CE. These traditions generally appropriate the fundamental tantric principle of power, Shakti, within Shiva’s metaphysical essence. Shiva is the Śaktiman, the “possessor” of Shakti, including her within his androgynous nature as his integral power and consort. According to the predominant myth, Shiva divides himself from Shakti and then, in sexual union, emanates and controls the universe through her. The most common ritual pattern is, correspondingly, the approach to Shiva through Shakti. The adept pursues identification with the omnipotent Shiva by assuming his mythic agency, in a recapitulation of his emanation and control of the universe through Shakti. The traditions of monistic Shaivism diverge in analyzing Shakti into various subordinate modalities, and in the specifics of “empowered speech formulas” (mantras), ritual diagrams of cosmogenesis (mandalas), sexual rituals and other culturally transgressive practices, and theosophical and philosophical speculations. The problem with most introductions over the last century to Kashmiri Shaivism in general, and Abhinavagupta in particular, is that they present the diverse traditions as one coherent system with different branches, uncritically assuming the systematization by Abhinavagupta to be historically descriptive rather than a second-order philosophical hermeneutics. This sort of interpretation was popularized by Chatterjee 1986 and perpetuated in later works, such as Sharma 1972, Pandit 1977, Pandit 1993, Pandit 1997, and Mishra 1999. All these studies can nevertheless provide useful overviews of common doctrines and practices, with those by Pandit informed by the deepest knowledge of the traditions. Dyczkowski 1987 provides a learned and more historically accurate introduction to monistic Shaiva traditions and the place of Abhinavagupta, although focusing particularly on the Spanda tradition. Pandey 1963 is the most comprehensive study of Abhinavagupta yet published; endeavoring to be historical but not always succeeding, it still provides a wealth of information. Raghavan 1981 is a collection of careful philological studies on particular aspects of Abhinavagupta’s opus.

  • Chatterjee, J. C. Kashmir Shaivism. Kashmir Series of Texts and Studies 2. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

    Originally published in 1914, this is the classic study that constructed an essentialist and largely nonhistorical understanding of Kashmir Shaivism, reading the interpretations of Abhinavagupta into the earlier literature. Despite these problems, it still provides a useful overview of some common doctrines and practices.

  • Dyczkowski, Mark S. G. The Doctrine of Vibration: An Analysis of the Doctrines and Practices of Kashmir Shaivism. SUNY Series in the Shaiva Traditions of Kashmir. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987.

    The most accessible and historically accurate general introduction to the monistic Shaiva traditions of Kashmir. Although focused particularly on the Spanda tradition, which conceives of Shakti as “creative vibration” (spanda), it provides a historical perspective on the role of Abhinavagupta in transforming and synthesizing the varieties of monistic Kashmiri Shaivism.

  • Mishra, Kamalakar. Kashmir Śaivism: The Central Philosophy of Tantrism. Delhi, India: Sri Satguru, 1999.

    Another synthetic and largely nonhistorical overview of monistic Shaiva doctrine and practice, largely following the writings of Abhinavagupta. Can be helpful for a general orientation.

  • Pandey, K. C. Abhinavagupta: An Historical and Philosophical Study. 2d ed. Varanasi, India: Chowkhambha, 1963.

    The most comprehensive study of Abhinavagupta that has yet been written, endeavoring to reconstruct his life and diverse areas of his thought. Though Pandey’s interpretations are in various respects outmoded and include some erroneous and unsubstantiated claims, they present a wealth of valuable information derived from a great familiarity with the texts. Remains a necessary starting point for all serious students of Abhinavagupta.

  • Pandit, B. N. Aspects of Kashmir Śaivism. Srinagar, India: Utpal, 1977.

    A survey of teachings of monistic Kashmiri Shaivism as presented in the works of Abhinavagupta and other writers. The author has a deep knowledge of the traditions but lacks a sufficiently critical historical perspective.

  • Pandit, B. N. The Mirror of Self-Supremacy, or, Svātantrya-Darpaṇa. Delhi, India: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1993.

    An edition and translation of the author’s own Sanskrit introduction to monistic Shaivism, largely following the teachings of Abhinavagupta.

  • Pandit, B. N. Specific Principles of Kashmir Śaivism. Delhi, India: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1997.

    Another useful survey of monistic Kashmiri Shaiva teachings, with the same strengths and limitations as Pandit 1977. Provides a more balanced overview of the Shaiva emanationist cosmology than the earlier book.

  • Raghavan, V. Abhinavagupta and His Works. Varanasi, India: Chaukhambha Orientalia, 1981.

    A series of critical historical articles on Abhinavagupta. Noteworthy items include an effort to list all known writings of Abhinavagupta; an edition of Madhurāja’s eulogy of Abhinavagupta, Gurunāthaparāmarśa; and an edition and translation of Abhinavagupta’s Paryantapañcāśikā.

  • Sharma, L. N. Kashmir Śaivism. Varanasi, India: Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan, 1972.

    An outdated but still informative overview of monistic Kashmiri Shaiva doctrines and practices.

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