Hinduism Pratyabhijñā
Marco Ferrante
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0252


The Sanskrit term Pratyabhijñā (“Recognition”) indicates a philosophical and theological tradition that flourished in Kashmir between the 10th and the 11th century CE (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies on Hinduism article Kashmir). The tradition grounded its doctrines in a subset of Śaiva scriptures (tantra or āgama) backing a nondualistic metaphysics and characterized by the veneration of terrific forms of Śiva (particularly Bhairava) and/or of his female counterpart (śakti). As a consequence, the Pratyabhijñā argued for a strict nondualistic ontology in which phenomena are conceived as the manifestation of a unitary and all-encompassing consciousness that is eventually identified with Śiva. Crucially, the tradition did not regard the conventional world as an illusion, but only as a less vivid embodiment of God’s unlimited power of action. From a religious perspective, the ultimate aim of the Pratyabhijñā was to make the adept recognize (hence the name of the tradition) the identity between human selves and Maheśvara Śiva, a condition that is ordinarily obfuscated by God’s own will. In order to defend this fundamental view, the exponents of the school polemicized against other philosophical denominations, mainly Buddhist but also, to a lesser degree, Brahmanical ones. This resulted in a philosophical literature that is sophisticated and demanding, as it requires a firm grasp on numerous epistemological, metaphysical, logical, and theological doctrines Indian philosophers have formulated over the preceding centuries.

General Overviews

General overviews specifically dedicated to the school are few. Especially early on, several works explicating Pratyabhijñā doctrines were labeled as general introductions to ‘Kashmir Śaivism’, a concept which is in itself problematic and ill-defined. An example of this tendency is Mishra 1999. On the other hand, many introductions to Indian philosophy, even recent ones, tend to overlook the Pratyabhijñā, as if its undeniable connection with tantra would somehow diminish the value of the philosophical arguments the tradition put forward. Notable exceptions are Torella 2011 and Bartley 2011. Currently, the most comprehensive treatment of the Pratyabhijñā is Ratié 2011a. For shorter introductions, one can profitably consult Ratié 2017a or Torella 2014. Useful, but with a strong comparative component, is Lawrence 1999. Franco and Ratié 2016 offers a collection of articles that situate Pratyabhijñā’s philosophy within the broader culture of Kashmir.

  • Bartley, Christopher. An Introduction to Indian Philosophy. London: Continuum, 2011.

    This relatively recent overview of Indian philosophy contains an entire chapter dedicated to Śaiva thought and illustrates in a succinct but clear way the basic doctrines of the Pratyabhijñā.

  • Franco, Eli, and Isabelle Ratié, eds. Around Abhinavagupta. Aspects of the Intellectual History of Kashmir from the Ninth to the Eleventh Century. Berlin: LIT, 2016.

    A collection of high-profile articles on the intellectual history of Kashmir when the Pratyabhijñā peaked. The volume contains several papers devoted to the main authors of the tradition, often situating their contributions within the intellectual history of premodern India.

  • Lawrence, David. Rediscovering God with Transcendental Argument: A Contemporary Interpretation of Monistic Kashmiri Saiva Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.

    The most interesting aspect of this monograph is the way in which it discusses Pratyabhijñā’s philosophy with a comparative slant: the Śaiva authors are put in relation to Euro-American philosophers and theologians, with the purpose to highlight similarities and differences of approach.

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

    Though sometimes outdated, this volume can somehow be useful for a first familiarization with the subject.

  • Ratié, Isabelle. Le Soi et l’Autre. Identité, différence et altérité dans la philosophie de la Pratyabhijñā. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2011a.

    Currently the most comprehensive and detailed book on the Pratyabhijñā. This long volume discusses nearly all the issues raised within the tradition with abundant and accurate references to the original texts and to the traditions with which the Śaiva authors interacted.

  • Ratié, Isabelle. “Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta on the Freedom of Consciousness.” In The Oxford Handbook of Indian Philosophy. Edited by J. Ganeri, 437–468. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017a.

    One of the best short introductions to the school. The essay touches upon the main themes of the tradition. The point of departure is the notion of freedom, that is to say, consciousness’s capacity of assuming any form, including the possibility of becoming different from itself.

  • Torella, Raffaele. The Philosophical Traditions of India: An Appraisal. Delhi: Indica Books, 2011.

    Torella devotes to the Pratyabhijñā two chapters of this introduction to Indian philosophy. The first contains an overview of the history of the tradition with brief remarks on its doctrines. In the second, the author offers an interesting English translation of the Pratyabhijñā’s section in the Sarvadarśanasaṃgraha, the famous doxographical work of Mādhava (14th century CE).

  • Torella, Raffaele. “Utpaladeva’s Lost Vivṛti on the Īśvarapratyabhijñā-kārikā.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 42.1 (2014): 115–126.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10781-013-9213-4

    Though meant to illustrate how Utpaladeva tackles important aspects of his philosophy in a fragment of the Vivṛti, this article works well also as a short introduction to Pratyabhijñā’s key ideas. Torella explains the school’s most complex notions, such as their understanding of memory, the notion of exclusion (apoha), the impossibility to objectify knowledge, and the question of how one can cognize absent objects.

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