The Impact of Inscriptions on the Interpretation of Early Śaiva Literature

In: Indo-Iranian Journal

This paper considers the limitations of the Śaivas’ prescriptive literature as evidence of the reality of their religion and stresses the benefits of reading it in the light of inscriptions and other forms of non-prescriptive evidence. It utilizes these other sources to address a number of questions that the prescriptive texts do not or cannot address. The first is that of the early history of Śaivism between the Mauryas and the Guptas. It concludes that when initiatory Śaivism achieved its dominance, as it did after the Gupta period, it did so on the basis of a widespread tradition of popular devotion that goes back at least to the second century bc, and that while the ingenuity and adaptability of the emerging Śaiva traditions were instrumental in this rise, a more fundamental cause may have been that in investing in these traditions their patrons were adopting an idiom of self-promotion that would be efficacious in the eyes of an already predominantly Śaiva population. It then presents evidence of this rise to dominance, explains the contradiction between the power and wealth of the Atimārga’s pontiffs seen in inscriptions and the ascetic disciplines prescribed in its literature, shows that the Āmardakamaṭha, the Mantramārga’s earliest monastic centre, at Auṇḍhā, was already active in the sixth century, argues that it was the initiation of rulers, seen in inscriptions from the seventh century on, that enabled the Mantramārga to spread throughout the subcontinent, and demonstrates that already in the seventh century Śaiva initiation had become routinized as a calendrically fixed duty imposed on temple-attached officiants as a condition of their tenure, thus illustrating how inscriptions can reveal mundane realities that the high-minded prescriptive literature is designed to conceal and transcend.


This paper considers the limitations of the Śaivas’ prescriptive literature as evidence of the reality of their religion and stresses the benefits of reading it in the light of inscriptions and other forms of non-prescriptive evidence. It utilizes these other sources to address a number of questions that the prescriptive texts do not or cannot address. The first is that of the early history of Śaivism between the Mauryas and the Guptas. It concludes that when initiatory Śaivism achieved its dominance, as it did after the Gupta period, it did so on the basis of a widespread tradition of popular devotion that goes back at least to the second century bc, and that while the ingenuity and adaptability of the emerging Śaiva traditions were instrumental in this rise, a more fundamental cause may have been that in investing in these traditions their patrons were adopting an idiom of self-promotion that would be efficacious in the eyes of an already predominantly Śaiva population. It then presents evidence of this rise to dominance, explains the contradiction between the power and wealth of the Atimārga’s pontiffs seen in inscriptions and the ascetic disciplines prescribed in its literature, shows that the Āmardakamaṭha, the Mantramārga’s earliest monastic centre, at Auṇḍhā, was already active in the sixth century, argues that it was the initiation of rulers, seen in inscriptions from the seventh century on, that enabled the Mantramārga to spread throughout the subcontinent, and demonstrates that already in the seventh century Śaiva initiation had become routinized as a calendrically fixed duty imposed on temple-attached officiants as a condition of their tenure, thus illustrating how inscriptions can reveal mundane realities that the high-minded prescriptive literature is designed to conceal and transcend.

*The Śaiva Literature

Those engaged in the study of Śaivism have before them in manuscript collections in the Indian subcontinent and around the world a great abundance and variety of textual sources. These provide a rich record of what Śaivas of various persuasions were required to do and think as adherents of their religion, beginning with a few sporadic data from the period between the Maurya and Gupta empires and then increasing to a flood from the fifth century ad onwards, when Śaivism emerges as the dominant faith of the Indian subcontinent and large parts of Southeast Asia. They encompass (1) traditions of lay devotion to Śiva that promise the adherent success and security in this life and, after death, the finite reward of ascension to the deity’s paradise (śivalokaḥ, rudralokaḥ), followed, once the merit that earned that reward has been exhausted, by the most desirable of incarnations in the human world. They claim, moreover, that the rewards of adherence extend in various degrees to the devotee’s patriline and dependents. Then there are (2) forms of Śaivism for initiates, which set themselves far above the Śaivism of the laity by offering the individual alone the attainment of the non-finite goal of liberation (mokṣaḥ). This initiatory Śaivism comprises (2a) the systems of the Atimārga, namely those of (2a1) the Pāñcārthika Pāśupatas (Atimārga I), (2a2) the Lākulas, also known as Kālamukhas (Atimārga II), and (2a3) the Kāpālikas, also known as Mahāvratins and as adherents of the Somasiddhānta (Atimārga III), that arose in that order, (2b) those of the Mantramārga or ‘Tantric Śaivism’ that developed on the basis of the second and third, coexisted with all three, and promised not only liberation but also, for those initiates consecrated to office, the ability to accomplish supernatural effects (siddhiḥ) such as the averting or counteracting of calamities (śāntiḥ) and the warding off or destruction of enemies (abhicāraḥ), and (2c) those of the predominantly Śākta Kulamārga, which offered the same goals as the Mantramārga, but propagated distinct methods that have more in common with the practices of Atimārga III than with those of the Mantramārga and indeed, I propose, developed directly from that source, preserving most of the distinctive features of that tradition.

The dating of these traditions cannot be determined with any precision from the available data; but we may say that the Atimārga preceded the Mantramārga, beginning probably not later than the second century ad and reaching its third stage not later than the fifth, and that the Mantramārga and Kulamārga emerged thereafter, the earliest text of the former, the Niśvāsamūla, assignable to the period 450–550,1 and Mantramārgic learned exposition on the basis of an already constituted corpus of scriptural texts in evidence not later than the eighth century and at its height in both the Mantramārga and the Kulamārga from the ninth to the twelfth. The literature of lay devotion began when the Atimārga was already established and continued to grow after the emergence of the Mantramārga.

In the Atimārga, at least in its Pāñcārthika and Lākula forms (Atimārga I and II), the emphasis is on counter-cultural asceticism and meditative absorption in the deity, and the practice is stated to be accessible only to brahmins and only to those who had duly passed through the brahmanical ceremony of upanayanam that qualifies a boy to begin the study of the Veda. This requirement would exclude women, though there is some evidence in the epigraphic record that there were also some female Atimārgic ascetics.2 In the Mantramārga access is extended to Śiva-devotees in all the four caste-classes (varṇaḥ), and also to women, though in the last case usually only as passive beneficiaries of initiation rather than as active initiates with access to office. Moreover, although meditation and asceticism are carried over into the Mantramārga it is ritual that now dominates; and this comprises not only ritual worship as the regular duty of initiates but also, and more crucially, the ritual of initiation itself (dīkṣā), which, greatly elaborated, was promoted not as the rite of qualification (saṃskāraḥ) for post-initiatory observance, though it also served that purpose for most initiands, but as the means by which Śiva himself chooses to destroy the bonds of souls ripe for liberation, acting through the person of his consecrated officiants (ācāryaḥ, guruḥ), who alone are empowered to perform the ritual. In addition it sets out rituals for the installation (pratiṣṭhā) of Liṅgas, other substrates of worship, and the temples that enshrine them, and for the accomplishment of the supernatural effects mentioned above.

The Mantramārga comprises two main divisions. The first of these (2b1) came to call itself the Siddhānta. It tended to monopolize the more visible domains of the Mantramārga, its officiants performing the consecration of Liṅgas and temples where worship was to be performed for the collective benefit of all, providing the priests of those temples and the superintendents of the monasteries (maṭhaḥ) commonly attached to them, and taking the office of the King’s Preceptor (rājaguruḥ), offering the monarch the benefit of Śaiva initiation without the inconvenience of the post-initiatory ritual duties and consecrating him in his office in a Śaiva variant of the long-established brahmanical ceremony of royal consecration (rājyābhiṣekaḥ), thus promoting its officiants as vital to the welfare of the whole society.

The Siddhānta is strictly Śaiva, in the sense that its rites are focused on Śiva alone (in his Sadāśiva form), worshipped without his consort. The other division of the Mantramārga (2b2) comprises a range of cults with a Śākta-Śaiva orientation engaged in the propitiation (i) of Bhairava, seen as a higher form of Śiva, represented as standing on Sadāśiva and worshipped with his consort (Aghoreśvarī, Bhairavī), and (ii) of predominantly ferocious female deities, sometimes represented as enthroned or standing in turn on Bhairava. These non-Saiddhāntika traditions for the most part were not involved in temple worship for the public good, their cults being mostly conceived as courses of propitiatory worship to be undertaken by individuals in the private domain for the benefit of themselves. Like the Siddhānta, they too taught rituals for the accomplishment of supernatural effects and indeed provided the most elaborate accounts of such rituals, which could be performed by a consecrated initiate for his own benefit or for that of a client. The ferocious character of many of their deities no doubt rendered them particularly appealing to royal patrons ready to invest in supernatural assistance against enemies and calamities. As a result we may say that in the Mantramārga’s engagement with society rather than in the domain of personal religion the Siddhānta came to operate principally in the fields of regular piety, legitimation, and stability, aspiring to subsume and preserve the brahmanical socio-religious order and therefore tending to free itself of the countercultural elements of its Atimārgic antecedents, while the non-Saiddhāntika Śākta-Śaiva systems, which maintained and developed those elements, came to the fore in the special domain of rituals commissioned to avert danger in response to particular events or as regular, institutionalized programmes of state protection.

The cults of the Mantramārga, Saiddhāntika and non-Saiddhāntika, are variants of a single ritual system, the principal difference being that the former adheres for the most part in its offerings and practices to the criteria of purity observed in the brahmanical tradition and maintains in the interaction of its initiates the rules of caste separation laid down by the same, whereas cults of the latter transgress these regulations, the more so the more Śākta the system.

As for the Kulamārga (2c), it marks the extreme in this regard but also departs markedly by following a distinct ritual system. It is found both in its own independent texts (the Kulaśāstras) and within texts of Śākta orientation that are assigned to the Mantramārga, so that in sources of the latter kind we are offered two distinct cults of their deities, one following the Mantramārga and the other, seen as more elevated, following the Kulamārga. In the latter, instead of the elaborate and time-consuming process of initiation through offerings into a consecrated fire (hautrī dīkṣā) seen throughout the Mantramārga, we see initiation through the inducing of possession (āveśaḥ) by the Goddess and the consumption of ‘impure’ sacramental substances (caruprāśanam, vīrapānam). We also find sexual intercourse with a consecrated consort (dūtī) as a central element of private worship, sanguinary sacrifices, and collective orgiastic rites celebrated by assemblies of initiates and women of low caste. Here we may seem to be in the presence of a purely personal, largely secret, and mystical cult. But, as in the cults of the non-Saiddhāntika Mantramārga, the public value of this form of Śaivism for the protection of society and the state was also stressed.

The literature of these various systems comprises a great number of scriptural texts, learned commentaries on those that were the most influential, and a mass of ancillary materials in the form of systematic guides to the performance of rituals (Paddhatis) on the basis of this or that scripture supplemented by information drawn from other scriptures where desired, some of a purist character aspiring to universal authority and others reflecting the often syncretistic character of local traditions. We also have large corpora of devotional hymns (stotram) in both lay and initiatory idioms and, addressed primarily to lay devotees, innumerable praise-texts (māhātmyam) promoting the multitudinous holy places throughout the subcontinent that are venerated as the sites of Śiva’s divine acts (caritam), his interventions in the world to reward his devotees and punish the wicked, often redacted into large collections of such materials specific to a region’s Śaiva sacred sites and given the status of scripture by attribution to this or that Purāṇa, most commonly the Skanda-.

The Limitations of the Śaiva Literature as Evidence of Śaiva Reality

This literary record is sufficient in extent, range, and complexity to engage a person’s attention throughout a lifetime, and it is therefore advisable to be aware of its limitations as evidence before one embarks on its study, if one does so, as I believe one should, with the intention of understanding the texts within the historical reality of the traditions that created them.

The foremost of these limitations is that the sources are almost entirely prescriptive. This means that they tell Śaivas what to do and what to think (and why they should do so) but disclose very little about the prevalence of the practices and beliefs that they advocate, of where or when they originated, of where and when they spread, or of the institutional infrastructure and patronage that enabled and sustained these developments.

This limitation is particularly marked in the scriptural texts, which are for the most part our earliest detailed evidence of the religion. These were presented as revelations emanating from Śiva himself, and therefore their undeclared authors and redactors took care that they should not contain the sort of information that the historian seeks, since that would have revealed them to be the products of men in identifiable regions and times; and even the exegetical literature, whose authors had no reason to conceal these facts and often declared them even if they did so with less detail than we might wish, reveals at best only that there were learned Śaivas in this or that region at this or that time, presenting an interpretation of this or that Śaiva tradition to a sympathetic audience whose size and character are hard if not impossible to discern.

Furthermore, while our Śaiva literature shows us that there were several divergent forms of the religion current during the early medieval period and gives us, for some at least of these, a wealth of detail concerning their prescribed practices, it does not enable us to form an adequate understanding of how they coexisted in any region or period, whether one was more influential than the others, to what extent or in what ways they were mutually exclusive, and whether the differences between them seen in the surviving sources were as marked in practice as they were in theory, especially with the passage of the centuries. This is particularly pertinent when one considers the relationship between the Atimārga and the Mantramārga, the former, it appears from its texts, restricted to brahmins who once recruited became and remained ascetics outside the brahmanical social order, and the latter not only extending recruitment into all the four caste-classes (varṇaḥ) but also allowing, indeed requiring, that initiates should remain after their initiation in the social state (āśramaḥ) in which they were before it, thus drawing married householders (gṛhasthaḥ) into the category of the initiated.

There are also questions concerning the relationship between these initiatory traditions and the Śaivism of the uninitiated. It appears reasonable to expect that the adherents of the latter would greatly have outnumbered those of the former; but we have no means of determining this from the texts. These disclose that one could adopt one or other of several Śaiva paths, but since the texts are prescriptive they do not allow us to judge how the population of Śaivas was distributed among them. The same applies to the demographics of religion in general in early medieval India. We cannot determine from the Śaivas’ texts, or indeed from those of any other religious tradition in India, how they stood in terms of numbers of adherents and available resources in comparison with their principal competitors for patronage, namely the Vaiṣṇavas, the Buddhists, the Jainas, the Sauras, and the purist adherents of brahmanical orthopraxy.

Finally, the ability of the Śaiva literature to provide a full and adequate account of the religion it enjoins and validates was hampered by the fact that as the religion developed it equipped itself with new rituals or new applications and modifications of existing rituals that no doubt greatly enhanced its appeal to its patrons but could not be justified in terms of the doctrines of its foundational texts. As a result, though all these ceremonies find their place somewhere in the surviving Paddhatis, the comprehensive practical guides to Śaiva ritual, they attract little attention in the learned, doctrine-driven literature; and this encourages the student to fail to see their historical importance, which is revealed precisely by the fact that they were adopted in spite of the difficulty of justifying them. I have in mind here such features as the giving of Śaiva initiation and consecration to the monarch ex officio if he were Śaiva by inclination and desired to receive them, the performing of rituals to empower the monarch in time of war, the performing of postmortuary rituals for initiates and others, the consecrating of images and temples for royal and other patrons, the accepting by some officiants at least, probably the majority, of lifelong professional service as priests in these temples, and even the performing for clients of relatively mundane rituals such as those developed in time for the consecration of public works such as water-reservoirs, step-wells, and gardens.

Inscriptions and Other Kinds of Non-prescriptive Evidence

To overcome these limitations completely is not within our reach. But help is at hand from various sources. We have the material evidence provided by what survives of temples, monasteries, and images of deities. We have a few works that record and interpret the past such as the Kashmirian histories of Kalhaṇa and his successors; we have a valuable eye-witness account of the state of religion in India in the seventh century given in the Da Tang Xiyu Ji (Great Tang Record of the Western Region); and we can glean a certain amount of information on current practices, sects, and beliefs from their depiction in belletristic works. The works of rival religious traditions, both non-Śaiva and Śaiva, can also contribute to our knowledge, as when they attack their opponents not for what they were required to do but for what they were actually doing. We also find useful material, principally on the location of Śaiva pilgrimage sites and the rites practised there, in the Purāṇic literature; and by looking at local corpora of such materials we can sometimes gain insights into the influence of particular initiatory traditions in specific regions and into the inconstant character of the boundary between those traditions and Purāṇic forms of religious observance.

But far outweighing all these sources in the wealth of information that they preserve and their impact on our understanding of the prescriptive texts are the very numerous inscriptions on stone and copper plates found in the subcontinent and Southeast Asia recording transactions in which rulers and others transferred rights and resources to religious beneficiaries, establishing temples, having deities installed in them, and providing for their worship and the support of ascetics and priests. These records generally declare at least their date and the identity of the benefactor, but commonly also reveal the place of their issue and the identity and antecedents of both the benefactor and the beneficiary. Supplemented by the evidence of the legends and depictions found on the seals and coin issues of certain kings they enable us to learn much more than the prescriptive texts reveal about the chronology, spread, and patronage of religious movements in India and beyond, to work towards a view of their relative strength in various regions and periods, and to see important elements of these traditions and their institutions that are not mentioned in the prescriptive literature or if mentioned are not emphasized.

The Limitations of the Epigraphic Evidence

This evidence too has its limitations. In some regions, such as the Deccan, the Far South, the Kathmandu valley, and the Khmer realm (Kambujadeśa) in Cambodia and its neighbourhood, the epigraphic record is abundant, while in others, such as Kashmir, it is sparse or non-existent. Moreover, it is inevitable that much has been lost even in the areas from which many inscriptions have survived, since stones may be refaced for reuse and copper plates melted down; and we can be sure that there were large numbers of records that were never transferred to stone or copper but remained on palm-leaf, birch-bark, cloth, wooden tablets, or other perishable media. What is more, it seems that there are still many inscriptions on durable media that are not yet accessible to us, according to some as many as one third of the total. We must accept therefore that the epigraphic record is incomplete and uneven. This means, for example, that it is hazardous to draw conclusions from the absence of epigraphic evidence of a form or practice of Śaivism in an area or from the presence of fewer epigraphic records of this form or practice in one area than in another. It is only when we have a large population of documents from an area that marked differences in the density of evidence become significant.

One further limitation must be mentioned. This is that the inscriptions register for the most part only those activities of the religion that had an impact in the public domain, telling us little about those that were more private in character. This means that there are forms of Śaivism, notably those of the Kulamārga and the non-Saiddhāntika Mantramārga, that have left few traces in the epigraphic record, and that those that are abundantly recorded, namely the Atimārga and the Saiddhāntika Mantramārga, are shown to us almost entirely in their public aspects. However, this bias, which is inevitable since the inscriptions provide for the most part a record of the patronage of institutions, is an asset rather than a disadvantage from the point of view of the historian. This is because the Śaiva literature itself is largely silent about the public domain in the case of the Atimārga and though not so reticent in the case of the Mantramārga was nonetheless slow to lift the veil on its more priestly activities, tied as it was from its origin to a view of the officiant (ācāryaḥ, guruḥ) as a medium for the spiritual salvation of the individual rather than as a professional priest bound to perform the regular worship in a temple for the general good, a role considered highly demeaning in brahmanical society.

I turn now to provide some examples of what the epigraphic record reveals, beginning with the question of the earliest evidence of devotion to Śiva and going on to consider first the epigraphic evidence of the later dominance of Śaivism, and then what inscriptions tell us about the practice of initiatory Śaivism that the texts do not.

The Earliest Evidence of Śaivism

The earliest certain evidence of Śaivism of which I am aware is found in the Mahābhāṣya of the grammarian Patañjali, who is plausibly assigned to the second century bc. He refers in passing to images of Śiva, to devotees of Śiva (śivabhāgavataḥ), and to the pairing of Śiva with the deity Vaiśravaṇa.3

I do not adopt the influential view, still widely held, that the figure with a horned head-dress seated in a ‘yogic’ posture and allegedly three-faced and ithyphallic depicted on a steatite seal unearthed at Mohenjo-daro from the Indus Valley Civilization of c. 2600–1900 bc “is recognizable at once as the prototype of the historic Śiva”,4 nor the view that when the Ṛgveda deprecates the śiśnádevāḥ ‘those whose god is the phallus’5 it refers to worshippers of the Liṅga, the phallic substrate of Śiva’s worship, and therefore provides evidence that Śaivism was already current in the subcontinent more than a thousand years before Patañjali. The meaning intended is more probably ‘those whose highest object of veneration is [their own] sex organs’, alleging godless carnality rather than Śaiva religious practice.

Nor, coming to times closer to Patañjali’s, am I persuaded that Śiva is the identity of the Indian ‘Dionysus’ of the Greek author Megasthenes (c. 350–290bc), who having visited India in an embassy sent to Candragupta Maurya (r. c. 321–297bc) wrote about the country and its people, in a lost work known to us in part through the testimony of later Greek and Roman historians. According to these Megasthenes associated his Indian ‘Dionysus’ with wine and Bacchanalian rites; and this prompted the conclusion that he must have had Śiva in mind, since Śiva was believed to have a similarly orgiastic nature. But that belief was derived from much later and inapposite Śākta Śaiva sources. If any Indian god was associated at this time with wine-drinking and drunken revels it was Baladeva (Balarāma, Saṃkarṣaṇa), the older brother of the god Vāsudeva (Kṛṣṇa), who has been thought to be the Indian ‘Heracles’, the only other Indian cult figure mentioned by Megasthenes.

Nor do I find plausible the conjectural emendations and ancillary arguments by means of which it has been claimed that there is knowledge of Śaivism, indeed of Śākta Śaivism, in the Pāli Buddhist canon,6 evidence which were it genuine might well be earlier than Patañjali. A convincing refutation has already been published.7

As the author of this claim has noted, a god called Śiva (sivo devaputto) does make a brief appearance in the Pāli Saṃyuttanikāya (1:56–57), uttering some verses on the merits of keeping the company of the virtuous, whose truth the Buddha then confirms, this intervention occurring in a sequence of such utterances by various beings of this class. But even if this is the Śiva of the Śaivas, which one is bound to doubt, because there is nothing in this passage and context that fits that identity, it remains the case that the Pāli canon knows of no teachings associated with Śiva8 and nowhere refers to his cult.

The latter absence is particularly significant because we find it even in the Niddesa,9 not one of the oldest canonical texts but perhaps composed around the beginning of the third century bc, in two passages that catalogue the various observances (Skt. vratam) adopted by non-Buddhist votaries in connection with gods (devatā). If Śiva had been known at this early period as a deity with his own votaries then we would expect that they would have been mentioned here at least.

The Earliest Epigraphic Evidence

Our earliest evidence of the cult of Śiva, then, is the testimony of Patañjali in the second century bc. But the earliest epigraphic record of the patronage of Śaivism to have come to light is considerably later. This is an inscription in a northwestern Prakrit written in the Kharoṣṭhī script10 found at Panjtār between the Swat and Indus rivers near the border of the Peshawar and Hazara Districts. It records that one Moïka, son of Urumuja—the names are Iranian rather than Indic—had a śivasthalam made there, ‘a precinct for [the worship of] Śiva’. The inscription is dated in year 122 of an unspecified era during the reign of an unnamed Kushan ruler. The era is almost certainly that of the Indo-Scythian king Azes I, later known as the Vikrama, giving a date in ad65 for this foundation.

This is followed by a fragmentary record in central-western Prakrit in the Brāhmī script at Vasana in the Dharwad District of Karnataka11 which reports a donation to a temple of Caṇḍaśivamahādeva during the time of the Sātavāhana king Vāsiṭhīputa Siri (Vāsiṣṭhīputraśrī-) Puḷumāvi. It has been dated in the third century on palaeographic grounds and to the reign of Puḷumāvi III, the last of the Sātavāhanas according to the Purāṇic genealogy of this dynasty, following the view that he reigned in the first quarter of that century; but dating based on palaeography is notoriously unreliable and the only Puḷumāvi who appears in our records with this metronymic is Puḷumāvi II, son of Gotamīputa Sātakaṇi. The chronology of the Sātavāhanas has been the object of widely differing opinions, but the most plausible view, now held by the majority, is that Puḷumāvi II’s reign spanned the turn of the first and second centuries ad.

After the Vasana record I know of no epigraphic evidence of any other Śaiva foundation of which we can be sure that it predates the fourth century. A Prakrit inscription of the early Pallava Siṃhavarman (I) from Guntur District in Andhra Pradesh12 records this ruler’s grant to the personnel of the temple of a Bhagavat Jīvaśivasvāmin for the support of the worship of that deity. It was assigned by its editor to the end of the third century on palaeographic and linguistic grounds, but later, apparently on palaeographic grounds, to the fourth,13 the century in which evidence of royal support for Śaivism begins to become more plentiful, both in Andhra, under the Ikṣvākus, and elsewhere.

Supposed Numismatic Evidence of the Early Co-opting of Śaivism by Non-Indian Rulers, from the Indo-Greeks to the Kushans

Further evidence has been adduced from inscriptions in the form of legends on coins and the figures that they identify, which if genuine would greatly raise the profile of Śaivism during the centuries between the Mauryas and the Guptas. For it has been maintained that we have abundant proof of recognition of the importance of Śaivism from as early as the late second century bc on coin issues of the foreigners who ruled parts of northern India during this period, namely the Indo-Greeks, Indo-Scythians, Indo-Parthians, and Kushans. But it is clear that what we have here is an interpretatio indica of non-Indian deities, Hellenistic and Iranian, features of whose iconography were incorporated in the development of that of Śiva during this period.14

Epigraphic, Material, and Textual Evidence of Śaivism in the General Population Before the Guptas

It is apparent, then, that firm evidence of Śaivism during the centuries between the Mauryas and the Guptas is so sparse that one might be tempted to conclude that at this time devotion to Śiva was a marginal phenomenon in comparison with Buddhism, Jainism, and Vaiṣṇavism. We certainly have far less epigraphic evidence of its patronage during this period.

However, the epigraphic record also reveals that even if Śaivism was not yet a major beneficiary of support by India’s rulers devotion to Śiva was nonetheless common and widespread in the population, and that this was the case throughout the subcontinent. We may infer this from the fact that theophoric names beginning with Śiva- and meaning, for example, ‘Given by Śiva’ (Śivadatta), ‘Servant of Śiva’ (Śivadāsa), or ‘Protected by Śiva’ (Śivarakṣita), are well represented from the second century bc to the third century ad among the many lay donors named in the Buddhist and Jain donative inscriptions of that period found at such widely separated sites as Bīmarān in Afghanistan, Shahdaur in Hazara, Ahicchatra and Mathurā in northern India, Kaṇheri and Nāsik in Maharashtra, and Nāgārjunakoṇḍa, Bhaṭṭiprolu, and Amarāvatī in Andhra.15 This is also the period during which the anthropomorphic iconography of Śiva begins to take shape and the Liṅga, Śiva’s phallic emblem and principal substrate of worship, emerges in the archaeological record and passes through the greater part of the changes of design that lead to its classical, less naturalistic form.16

This hypothesis of the emergence and popularity of the cult of Śiva during this period in spite of the paucity of epigraphic evidence of its patronage by the élite also receives support from Jaina, brahmanical, and Buddhist literary evidence.17

I conclude that when Śaivism did rise to prominence in the epigraphic record, as it did in later centuries, it did so on the basis of an already well-established and widespread tradition of popular devotion that goes back at least to the second century bc.

This hypothesis is stengthened by material and epigraphic evidence that shows that there was a strong tradition of temple-based lay devotion to Śiva on which the known initiatory traditions of the Atimārga and Mantramārga had little effect when they established their control of the temples and provided their priests. We can detect this, I propose, in the conspicuous mismatch between the restricted pantheon of worship that these groups advocated and that found in the temples that they took over. For the latter includes various Śiva-forms that have no place in the initiatory cults, such as Harihara, Umāmaheśvara, Ardhanārīśvara/Gaurīśvara, and the dancing Śiva (Nṛtyarudra, Nṛtteśvara, Nṛtyeśvara, Naṭeśvara, Nāṭakeśvara, and Nāṭyeśvara), and also accommodates a wide range of other deities, such as Durgā, Gaṇeśa, Skanda, Viṣṇu, Brahmā, Sūrya, Lakṣmī, Sarasvatī, the Lokapālas, the Grahas, and the Mothers, a pantheon that is very unlikely to have been introduced by Atimārgic ascetics and underwent little modification when the Mantramārga replaced the Atimārga as the dominant initiatory tradition in many regions, at least no modification that can be attributed to the influence of the Mantramārga itself rather than to developments in the popular substrate.18

Evidence of the Dominance of Śaivism in Later Times

That Śaivism did rise to dominance during the centuries after the Guptas is clear from abundant textual evidence that Buddhists, Jains, and Vaiṣṇavas responded to the rise of Śaivism by producing new ritual systems following Śaiva Mantramārgic models and that, in the production of the texts required to authorize these innovations, they also adopted or adapted, particularly in the case of both late Buddhism and Jainism, much textual material directly from Śaiva sources.19 But it is even more clearly demonstrated by the epigraphic record of the centuries from the fifth to the twelfth. Here we find that rulers who identify themselves in their inscriptions as Śaivas, most commonly by including with their royal titles the epithet paramamāheśvaraḥ ‘completely devoted to Maheśvara’, greatly outnumber those declaring any other religious adherence; and the same imbalance is evident from the epigraphic record of religious donations during these centuries. Of those reported in the inscriptions published in Epigraphia Indica I find that 660 are grants to brahmins (brahmadeyam)—these emanate from rulers of all kinds, regardless of sectarian affiliation—and that of the remaining 936, 596 (64%) are Śaiva (including 73 donations to Devīs and 8 to Skanda), 164 (18%) Vaiṣṇava, 111 (12%) Jain, 63 (7%) Buddhist, and 38 (4%) Saura. Approximately the same ratios are seen in the inscriptions of the same time range published in the Indian Antiquary. 146 are sect-neutral donations to brahmins, 117 are Śaiva (including 3 Śākta), 27 are Vaiṣṇava, 34 are Jain, 29 are Buddhist, and 4 are Saura. Thus Śaiva donations, that is to say, donations to or creations of Śaiva foundations, are close in number to sect-neutral donations and far outnumber all other sectarian donations, for Vaiṣṇava, Buddhist, Jain, or Saura purposes. There is no reason to think that these publications reflect any sectarian bias in their choice of inscriptions.

This marked preponderance of Śaivism can also be seen in the material evidence of the numbers of temples constructed; and both this evidence and that of the epigraphic record show that even when Vaiṣṇavism was the beneficiary of a marked increase in patronage the consequent growth in the number of Viṣṇu temples was not accompanied by any diminution in the number of new Śiva temples. This strongly suggests that the deeprootedness of devotion to Śiva evident in the early centuries has continued throughout the history of the religion.20

It is no doubt an error, therefore, to see Śaivism’s success as due entirely to the influence of the Śaiva initiatory traditions. It is more probable that the latter were successful in no small measure because Śaiva devotion had become the dominant religious idiom in the population at large; and the success of the initiatory lineages in securing royal patronage, though no doubt in large part the result of their own adaptability in meeting their patrons’ needs,21 was perhaps also and more fundamentally due to the fact that in investing in Śaiva ceremonies and institutions these patrons were adopting an idiom of self-promotion that would be particularly efficacious in the eyes of a predominantly Śaiva population, not only among the brahmins but among all social strata, down to and including the lowest. Moreover, it was, I propose, because this lay Śaiva devotion extended in the largely agricultural population to the propitiation of local Mother goddesses and Bhairavas that initiatory Śaivism set about elaborating its own systems for the elevated, ‘Tantric’ propitiation of these deities.

The Earliest Evidence of the Atimārga

None of the evidence reviewed above of devotion to Śiva in earlier times, between the Maurya and Gupta periods, c. 200bc to c. 350ad, allows us to say that the Śaivas it attests, beginning with Patañjali’s Śivabhāgavatas, were adherents of any of the initiatory traditions encountered and prescribed in our surviving Śaiva texts and reviewed above. It is only in the second half of the fourth century ad that we encounter our first epigraphic evidence of adherents of one of these, no doubt the earliest. This is in the mention of Pāśupata officiants in seven copper-plate grants of Mahārāja Bhuluṇḍa of Valkhā, modern Bagh in the Dhar District of Madhya Pradesh, ranging in date from ad370 to 379,22 and in a stone pillar inscription at Mathura, 145km south-east of Delhi, issued in ad380/381 during the rule of the Gupta king Candragupta II.23

The Bagh plates refer to unnamed Pāśupatas as being among those with rights to enjoy, cultivate, and inhabit the temple lands granted, and one of these grants, issued in ad376, records a gift of land made by the Mahārāja Bhuluṇḍa to support the worship of the Mothers in a temple of those deities that, we are told, had been established by a Pāśupata officiant (Pāśupatācārya) Bhagavat Lokodadhi.

The Mathura pillar inscription records that a certain Ārya Uditācārya has installed a [Śiva] Upamiteśvara and a [Śiva] Kapileśvara, named after his immediate predecessor Bhagavat Upamitavimala and the latter’s immediate predecessor Bhagavat Kapilavimala, both to add to his own store of religious merit and to honour their memory. The inscription does not refer to these Gurus as Pāśupatas, but it conveys as much by declaring that Uditācārya is the tenth in the teacher-disciple transmission from Bhagavat Kuśika, presumably venerated as the source of the lineage. This person is therefore plausibly identified with the Bhagavat Kuśika venerated in both Pāśupata texts and epigraphic records as the person who was the first to receive the Pāśupata teaching from Śiva, when he asked him whether a definitive cessation of all suffering is possible and received the Pañcārtha or Pāśupatasūtra, the foundational text of this tradition, as the affirmative answer.24 This renders it very unlikely that this is not a Pāśupata record and at the same time reveals by stating the number of intervening office-holders that it is not improbable that this Pāśupata lineage goes back as far as the second century ad.25

Epigraphic Light on the Practice of the Atimārga

Now, anyone who is familiar with the available religious literature of the Pāśupatas should immediately be struck by the fact that these epigraphic records show their officiants departing in a fundamental respect from the ideal laid down in that literature. For they evidently transgress the rule, much stressed by Kauṇḍinya in the Pañcārthabhāṣya, that the Pāśupata must be without possessions (niṣparigrahaḥ) other than the items required for his observance, and that his only permitted source of sustenance is food given to him on his begging round.26 It is inconceivable that Pāśupatas abiding by this rule would have been in a position to fund the construction of a temple or the installation of Śivas, or that they would have been the beneficiaries of land grants intended to provide them with a living.

As for Bhagavat Lokodadhi, his founding of a temple for the Mothers should surprise us not only because it shows him to have had wealth at his disposal but also because it would appear to transgress the rule of exclusive devotion. For while the Mothers certainly fall within the orbit of Śaivism in the broad sense of that term our Pāśupata sources make it plain that they envisage a discipline in which the brahmin passes in his initiation from a religious life in which he venerates both his ancestors and all the gods to one that excludes all objects of reverence other than Rudra/Śiva.27

Both rules, those of possessionlessness and exclusive devotion, also appear not to have applied to the twelfth-century Pāñcārthika Pāśupata dignitary Bhāvabṛhaspati who presided as seniormost ascetic over the great Śaiva temple-complex of Somanātha at Prabhāsa on the coast of Saurāṣṭra. His Praśasti of ad1169 tells us that when he was appointed to this office by the Caulukya king Kumārapāla (r. 1144–1174) he received a gift of jewellery, two elephants, and strings of pearls, and that later, when he had renovated the damaged temple of Somanātha, the king expressed his pleasure by granting him the village of Brahmapurī. The Pāśupatācārya then set about an ambitious programme of pious and charitable works in the temple-city under his authority. He granted livings, that he had confiscated from others, to Pāñcārthikas, brought the staff of Pāśupata officiants (Āryas) up to its full compliment of 505 persons, built fortresses to the north and south of the temple, donated golden finials to the temples of Gaurī, Bhīmeśvara [Śiva], Kapardin [Vināyaka], Siddheśvara [Śiva] and other deities, constructed a hall for the reception of the king whenever he visited the temple, a well to provide water for the cleaning of the temple kitchens and the bathing of images, a hall with fine pillars facing the temple of Kapardin, and a silver water-spout and a platform for water-vessels, renovated the dilapidated temple of Pāpamocana [Śiva], establishing images there of Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Maheśvara, and a flight of steps down to the river, built many houses for brahmins, restored endowments for the worship of Viṣṇu, built two step-wells, one within the new town and the other on the path to the Somanātha temple, the latter with a shrine of Aparacaṇḍikā, renovated the temple of the goddess Caṇḍikā in the vicinity of that temple, and made many donations to learned brahmins on every holy day.28

Nor is this the only respect in which the epigraphic record shows us Pāñcārthika Pāśupatas in apparent contravention of their own regulations. The same Praśasti informs us that before Bhāvabṛhaspati came to preside over Somanātha he had set out from his home in Benares to visit the sacred sites of his faith but also to give initiation to kings and that after reaching Dhārā, the capital of Mālava, he put his intention into practice by making the princes of the Paramāra dynasty his disciples.29 He also, we are told, became so close to Jayasiṃha/Siddharāja, the Caulukya king of Gūrjara (r. ad1096–1143), that the two were like brothers.30 This, it might be thought, contravenes the rule that the Pāśupata must avoid all dealings with royalty.31

Furthermore, the surviving literature of the Pāśupatas does not allow us to understand how kings could be initiated, unless it be as Pāśupata ascetics. But that is clearly not intended here. While it is conceivable that a king might retire at the end of his reign to become a Pāśupata ascetic it is hardly likely that the dynasty would tolerate or survive the generality of its princes abandoning their royal calling. What is intended here is surely some form of initiation, such as we know from the much more abundant literature of the Mantramārga, where it is termed ‘initiation without seed’ (nirbījā dīkṣā), which bestowed the spiritual benefit of the ceremony and the status of an initiate without the inconvenience of the time-consuming post-initiatory discipline, that being incompatible with a king’s exercise of his duties of governance.32

We can also be sure that they adopted rituals for the installation of Liṅgas, even though we find no mention of this in their prescriptive sources. We have epigraphic evidence of Pāñcārthikas presiding over major Śaiva temple complexes, creating new temples within them and renovating the old, and it is surely unlikely that they would have farmed out the important rituals required for these purposes to their Mantramārgic rivals. But we also have the clear testimony of the literature of the latter. For there we find Mantramārgic authors condemning officiants of the Atimārga for performing such installations, insisting that any Liṅga so consecrated is unfit for worship and that it must be uprooted and another installed in its place or, if precious, reconsecrated with the Mantras of the Mantramārga.33 The alternative shows not only that Ācāryas of the Atimārga were performing installations but also that they had their own procedures for this purpose, since it implies that Atimārgic installations were done with other Mantras.

Then there is the matter of celibacy. The Pañcārthabhāṣya is firm on this point: to be a Pāśupata ascetic is to abjure sexual relations.34 Nonetheless, we have evidence that celibacy, by which I mean not merely abstention from sexual relations but also the abjuring of marriage and family life, was not always expected of Pāñcārthika Ācāryas. An eminent case is that of the same Pāśupatācārya Bhāvabṛhaspati. For we are told that the Caulukya king Kumārapāla made Bhāvabṛhaspati’s position as head ascetic of the Somanātha temple hereditary, to be passed on to his son and his son’s descendants in perpetuity; and the inscription that reports this and his various pious works also tells us that he had a beautiful wife who bore him four sons.35 Another source adds a daughter.36 Nor is this an isolated instance. An inscription of ad1183 from the Etawah District of Uttar Pradesh records a grant made to a certain Bhaṭṭāraka Nīlakaṇṭha, resident of the monastery (maṭhaḥ) of Āsatikā and the representative of Mahāliṅgeśvara, the Śiva of that place, and describes him as the son of Bhaṭṭāraka Kedārarāśipaṇḍita, and the grandson of Paramabhaṭṭāraka Kīrtivāsa;37 an inscription from Gujarat issued in ad1231 records a royal provision for the feeding of the Bhaṭṭārakas in the monastery of the Pāśupata Maṭhasthānapati Vedagarbharāśi, with a portion set aside for the benefit of his son Someśvara;38 and the Cintra Praśasti of ad1287 informs us concerning two other Pāśupata ascetics who held office at Somanātha, Bṛhaspati and his disciple the Mahattara Tripurāntaka, that both were married. We learn this from its account of Tripurāntaka’s activity as a creator of new temples. For these include temples for an Umeśvara and a Rameśvara, Śivas named, we are told, after his Guru Bṛhaspati’s wife Umā, and his own wife Ramā.39 It also provides further evidence that such religious dignitaries were far from adhering to the Pāśupata rules of freedom from possessions and exclusive devotion. For Tripurāntaka is reported here as having had ten temples built: the two mentioned, three for Śivas named after his mother Mālhaṇā (Mālhaṇeśvara), his Guru Bṛhaspati (Bṛhaspatīśvara) and himself (Tripurāntakeśvara), and five for other deities, namely Gorakṣa, Bhairava, Hanumān, Sarasvatī, and the Gaṇeśa Siddhivināyaka.40

Between these Pāśupata records of the fourth and thirteenth centuries there are many others that show us Pāśupatācāryas in the same light, as donors and temple-builders and as beneficiaries of grants through their connection with Śaiva foundations.41

The epigraphic record reveals much the same for the Atimārga II of the Lākulas or Kālamukhas, which emerged between Atimārga I and the earliest phase of the Mantramārga (c. 450–550ad)42 and is attested in south-Indian inscriptions, particularly in the Kannaḍa-speaking regions, from the ninth century to the thirteenth.43 We find that Kālamukhas too were presiding over Śaiva Maṭhas and temples,44 overseeing their daily and periodic rituals,45 which were not restricted to the exclusive cult of Śiva,46 receiving and managing endowments for religious, educational, and charitable activities,47 establishing temples and monasteries themselves,48 and serving as the preceptors of rulers (rājaguruḥ).49 We find also that they were performing fire-sacrifices (homaḥ),50 thus jettisoning the strict prohibition against the kindling of fire seen in Kauṇḍinya’s Pañcārthabhāṣya51 and attributed to all three branches of the Atimārga by Mantramārgic authorities.52 Moreover, it is unlikely that those who were the preceptors of rulers did not follow the practice seen in Atimārga I and the Mantramārga of giving their powerful patrons some form of initiation. As for their performing installation and consecration ceremonies for Liṅgas and their temples, the reasons for concluding that the Pāñcārthika Ācāryas of Atimārga I were doing so apply equally to them; but in this case we have more than the testimony of their Mantramārgic rivals and the presumption that it is highly unlikely that they would not have performed these rituals themselves. For an inscription of the Raṭṭa ruler Ballāla, dated in ad1192, from Ardhāpur in the Nanded District of Maharashtra, describes the distinguished Kālamukha ascetic Kāleśvara not only as the lord of seventy-seven Maṭhas but also as kālāmukhadīkṣāpratiṣṭhācāryaḥ ‘an officiant in the Kālāmukha [ceremonies of] initiation and image-installation’.53

The fact that this Kāleśvara was the superintendent of so many religious establishments reveals how much more than the pursuit and promotion of spiritual improvement would have been involved in such a post. Even the head of a single such establishment would have had among his duties the auditing of accounts and the supervision of investments, the monitoring of the conduct of the ascetics and others under his authority, the overseeing of the educational and charitable activities generally associated with a Maṭha, and the hiring of the staff required to provide these various services. The head of seventy-seven such institutions was no doubt at the summit or near the summit of a hierarchy with more than two levels and one can imagine that in addition to his other responsibilities or privileges would have been that of appointing his disciples and disciples’ disciples to positions within this hierarchy and of determining how fast or high they would rise within it.

Then there is the matter of the appearance and behaviour prescribed for those who have received initiation. According to the Niśvāsamukha of the proto-Mantramārga, such a person was to carry a skull-topped staff and a skull-bowl, with his hair in matted braids or shaved bald, with a sacred thread made from twisted strands of human hair taken from a corpse, adorned with a chaplet consisting of a string of miniature human skulls carved from human skull bone, wearing only a loin cloth, his body dusted with ash and embellished with adornments such as a necklace and earrings carved from human bone;54 and the Āgamaprāmāṇya of the south-Indian Vaiṣṇava Yāmunācārya (c. ad966/7–1038) lists the following as the Kālamukhas’ distinctive traits: (1) eating from a bowl fashioned from a human skull, (2) bathing with the ashes of the dead, (3) swallowing them, (4) carrying a club, (5) installing a pot containing alcoholic liquor, and (6) worshipping the deity in it, practices, he rightly says, that are forbidden by all brahmanical authorities.55 But the inscriptions that mention Kālamukha Ācāryas make no reference to any of these practices; and images of such pontiffs that have survived in temples in the region between Ālampūr and Śrīśailam in Andhra Pradesh show them without the prescribed accoutrements.

As for celibacy, it is given as the primary restraint imposed on Kālamukhas in the Pampāmāhātmya’s account,56 and some inscriptions recording Kālamukha endowments emphasize this rule, insisting that any ascetic who does not maintain it should be expelled.57 But there are many other inscriptions of this period and region in which Kālamukha ascetics’ successors in office are identified as their sons.58

As for Atimārga III, the Atimārgic tradition of the Mahāvratin followers of the Somasiddhānta, also called Kāpālikas, here too the epigraphic record, which extends from the seventh to the twelfth century in inscriptions from Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamilnadu,59 reveals that adherents were accepting appointment as Sthānācāryas attached to Śiva temples and that some made pious grants in their own right, thus exposing the fact that they too were far from the ideal of freedom from possessions;60 and it appears that as in Atimārga I and II there were both celibate and married Ācāryas.61

We find, then, that a great gulf separates the disciplines prescribed in our texts for initiates in the Atimārga and the activities and social relations revealed in the epigraphic record. What should we make of this? One possibility is to assume that the inscriptions show us the Atimārga in a state of decadence, in which the rigorous discipline prescribed in the texts has been largely abandoned. This has been proposed in the case of the Kālamukhas to account for the discrepancy between the picture gained of them from the inscriptions and the outline of their counter-brahmanical practices given by the Vaiṣṇava Yāmunācārya in the tenth or early eleventh century. It has been suggested on the strength of this evidence that by the twelfth century, the period of the great majority of our Kālamukha records, the order had purged itself of its more objectionable practices or at least suppressed them.62

This has been countered63 with the objection that there is no trace of these practices even in the earliest of the known Kālamukha records, that of ad810; and this fact has been used to support an alternative hypothesis, namely that there never was anything to reform and that Yāmunācārya’s report was simply a gross distortion motivated by a desire to denigrate the Kālamukhas as rivals in the quest for patronage.64

This, however, is not an acceptable solution. For there is evidence within the Śaiva literature itself, evidence not known to the proponent of this hypothesis, that backs up Yāmunācārya’s outline. Moreover, it is now clear that ad810, the date of our first Kālamukha inscription, is much later than the origin of Atimārga II, which must have emerged at some time between the second and fifth centuries. We are therefore free, it would seem, to return to the first hypothesis, merely pushing the self-expurgation back to a time between this origin and the emergence of the Kālamukhas in the epigraphic record in the ninth century.

However, I propose a different solution, one which does not need to suppose self-expurgation. This is to recognize that the tradition saw no discrepancy between the prescribed disciplines of Atimārgic initiates and the range and character of the activities ascribed to the Atimārga’s Ācāryas in the epigraphic record and that this was so because it recognized that there were two distinct categories of Atimārgic votary, namely Ācāryas and Sādhakas, and that the ascetic disciplines of the Atimārga were obligatory, at least in their entirety, only for the latter.

This solution is at first sight counter-intuitive. The terms Ācārya and Guru are synonymous in our texts and it is therefore an understandable assumption that the Ācārya would be a more advanced practitioner than the Sādhaka, one who had reached a level of seniority and respect that qualified him to take up this function; and that therefore, since these senior figures, who are those that we meet in the inscriptions, are depicted there without reference to the outré practices and accoutrements prescribed in textual sources, the Sādhakas under their authority must likewise have been free of these elements, which were therefore either falsely ascribed to them or expurgated by the traditions themselves as their practitioners rose to positions of honour and influence in a society governed by brahmanical values.

However, there is clear textual evidence in Atimārga I that supports the solution proposed. Kauṇḍinya’s Pañcārthabhāṣya provides no help in the matter. It is entirely focused on the initiate’s discipline and touches on the duties of the Ācārya only obliquely, when it refers, very briefly, to the ritual of initiation. But a later authority, the commentator on the Pāñcārthika Gaṇakārikā, expresses exactly the division that I am proposing by stating in his opening words, before going on in the manner of his model Kauṇḍinya to expound the Sādhaka’s discipline, that only Sādhakas are expected to adhere to the Pāśupata discipline fully and that Ācāryas can expect to attain the same ultimate goal (duḥkhāntaḥ) simply through the conscientious execution of their official duties, which he identifies as initiating suitable brahmins and interacting with the laity:

kiṃ nu bhagavan pañcārthasamastaniyogānupālanād eva duḥkhāntaḥ prāpyata iti. ucyate. na kevalaṃ tataḥ kiṃ tu samastaniyogānuṣṭhānaśaktivikalenāpi brāhmaṇaviśeṣāṇāṃ śiṣyatvenopagatānāṃ samyaganugrahakaraṇād api duḥkhāntaḥ prāpyate. kasmāt. saṃpradāyarakṣaṇāt. saṃpradāyaṃ pālayatā hi tatsaṃpradāyasāmarthyena duḥkhāntaṃ gamiṣyatāṃ bahūnām api duḥkhāntaḥ saṃpādito bhavati. tato ’nantaphalapuṇyopacayaḥ. tato yogaprāptau prasādād duḥkhānta iti.

O Lord, is the observance of all the injunctions of the Pañcārtha the only means of attaining the end of suffering? No, that is not the only means. It is also possible for a person to attain it even though he does not have the capacity to put all those injunctions into practice, if [as a holder of the office of Ācārya] he properly favours [through initiation and the rest] such outstanding brahmins as approach him as candidates. Why? Because he is [thereby] safeguarding the tradition. For by doing so he enables many who seek to attain the end of suffering through the power of that tradition to achieve their goal. By this means he accumulates merit that will bestow infinite reward. It is through this [merit] that he will attain union [with Rudra] and thence, through [Rudra’s] favour, the end of suffering.

Gaṇakārikāratnaṭīkā p. 2, ll. 7–12


gurur ācāryaḥ śraddhāvatām āśramiṇāṃ darśanasaṃbhāṣaṇādibhir api pāpaghnaḥ puṇyātiśayakārī ca.

The Guru, the Ācārya, also destroys his sins and generates exceptional merit by such [actions] as giving audience to committed lay believers and conversing with them.

Gaṇakārikāratnaṭīkā p. 3, ll. 12–13

So it is clear that the Atimārga itself recognized that it was only the Sādhakas that adopted a life that distanced them radically from society, expecting its Ācāryas to remain at the interface with the mundane world, maintaining the Atimārga by inducting persons from that world and interacting with it. What this interaction entailed may well have developed over time and conservative elements may not have been content with all its elements conveyed by the inscriptions, but it is evident that this disjunction between the roles of the Sādhaka and the Ācārya must have existed and been recognized as soon as Pāśupatas took on the function of administering temples and that all the elements of their role seen in our inscriptions could, at least in principle, be justified within the terms of the commentator on the Gaṇakārikā as the substance of this duty of interaction for the promotion of the faith.

For the same reason we should not assume that those aspects of the Atimārgic Ācārya’s role that differ radically from the Sādhaka’s and are shared with the Ācāryas of the Mantramārga, notably the installing and consecration of substrates and places of worship, were introduced only after the emergence of the Mantramārga, in order to enhance the Atimārga’s ability to compete with it successfully. It is entirely possible that in this domain, as in that of initiation, the Mantramārga was merely elaborating forms of officiation already developed in the Atimārga in accordance with the very different function of the Ācārya, since we find Pāśupata Ācāryas tied to temples as soon as they appear in the epigraphic record in the fourth century ad, which is to say, perhaps as long as two centuries before our first Mantramārgic texts.

Inscriptions and the Mantramārga

I end with some observations on respects in which the epigraphic record enriches or modifies our understanding of the Mantramārga. Registering as it does only those religious traditions that are already in a position to attract patronage it does not record post-Atimārgic initiatory Śaivism in its earliest phase but only in its maturity. Nonetheless the knowledge it provides of the evolution of the Indian scripts has supported an hypothesis that the Nayasūtra in what is surely the earliest text corpus of this tradition, the Niśvāsatattvasaṃhitā, which has come down to us in a Nepalese palm-leaf manuscript of the ninth century, was composed at a time from the fifth to seventh centuries and that the Mūlasūtra (/Niśvāsamūla), which is certainly the earliest work within that corpus, was composed at a time between c. 450 and 550ad.65 This also provides a limit for Atimārga II, since the Niśvāsa corpus presupposes and knows that system.66 Moreover, the fact that the Niśvāsamukha of this corpus presents the Atimārga as having only two divisions (I and II), not distinguishing the Somasiddhānta (III), argues for a date early in the range suggested by script analysis, since Atimārga III is attested in seventh-century inscriptions and references to Kāpālikas begin perhaps as early as the fifth century67 and proliferate from the sixth.

As for evidence in the content of inscriptions, these reveal that by the seventh century the Saiddhāntika Mantramārga was already a well-established tradition, at least in the Dravidian-speaking areas south of the Vindhyas. For they include three that record the giving of Saiddhāntika initiation to major rulers: the Cālukya king Vikramāditya I in ad660, the Eastern Gaṅga king Devendravarman in 682/3, and the Pallava king Narasiṃhavarman at some time between 680 and 731.68 Somewhat earlier, probably during the first half of that century, this tradition was already prominent enough to call forth from the Buddhist philosopher Dharmakīrti at some time between approximately 550 and 650 an attack on its claim to bestow liberation through initiation;69 and by the eighth century at the latest we find our first works of learned Saiddhāntika exegesis, by Sadyojyotis and Bṛhaspati. These attest the existence by that time of the scriptures Rauravasūtrasaṃgraha, Svāyambhuvasūtrasaṃgraha, and Mataṅgapārameśvara, since they expound the doctrines of the first two texts and Bṛhaspati draws on the third,70 texts which show that they belong to a time when the Saiddhāntika tradition had evolved considerably from the time of the Niśvāsa corpus, in which, for example, the later distinction between the Saiddhāntika and non-Saiddhāntika traditions seems not yet to have emerged, with rituals for supernatural effects and antinomian observances still prominent.71

The epigraphic record also provides evidence of the monastic tradition that provided the institutional basis of the Saiddhāntika Mantramārga. The earliest evidence of this kind to have come to light is an inscription from Senakapāṭ in Chattisgarh, close to Sirpur, the ancient capital of Dakṣiṇa Kosala, undated but issued under the Pāṇḍuvaṃśin king Śivagupta Bālārjuna, who ruled this kingdom between the approximate limits of ad590 and 650. Reporting a grant to an ascetic called Sadāśivācārya, it tells us that he is the disciple of a disciple of the ‘brother’ of an ascetic Sadyaḥśivācārya who was originally from the hermitage at Āmardaka.72 This enables us to say that in all probability the establishment at Āmardaka, which can be recognized from the many references to it in later inscriptions and Śaiva texts from many areas to have been the mother institution to which all subsequent Saiddhāntika branch-lineages traced their authority,73 was already in existence in the sixth century.

There have been several rash assertions about the location of this site. It has been placed in Western Malwa,74 in its capital city Ujjain,75 on the east coast at the mouth of the Mahānadī river in the Balasore District of Orissa,76 in Gwalior, near the Mattamayūra and Araṇipadra monasteries that were founded as its satellites,77 and in Bengal.78 But epigraphic evidence79 combined with references to the place in texts in praise of sacred sites80 establishes that it was in the Deccan at modern Auṇḍhā/Aundah (19°32 N, 77°2 E) about 180km southeast of Sirpur and about 40km northeast of Parbhani.81

In addition to providing evidence of the Siddhānta’s monastic character and the subsequent extension of its authority into many parts of the subcontinent through an expanding networks of satellites, the epigraphic record reveals that the principal means of this extension was the initiating of kings and the favour shown in consequence, either through the building of monasteries to house the king’s initiator, who had been induced, at least in some cases, to relocate for this purpose and to take up permanent residence as the royal preceptor (rājaguruḥ), or through providing such lavish rewards for this service in the form of grants of land that the beneficiaries were able to fund their own proliferation. Some became major patrons in their own right, assuming an almost regal character and royal epithets, with an authority that on occasion spread beyond the limits of a single kingdom.82 Nor were Śaivas reluctant to go beyond the liberationist brief dictated by their theology to promote royal initiation in terms likely to be more appealing to monarchs, that is to say, as a means of enhancing their sovereign power and martial might.83

Little of this is evident from the prescriptive texts alone. Indeed one who studies the Śaivism of the Mantramārga through its texts might well form the impression that while ascetic initiates existed the tradition was for the most part in the hands of the married men, who were now openly admitted both as initiates and as office-holders. Such a view is certainly encouraged by studying the learned commentators, such as Bhaṭṭa Rāmakaṇṭha, Abhinavagupta, and Kṣemarāja, all of whom, whatever their own marital status, appear to be addressing an audience of married householders rather than ascetics. The question of how these two worlds, that of the celibate ascetic and that of the married householder, diverged and coexisted within the Mantramārga is one that deserves closer investigation. Perspectives gained from the study of the inscriptions will enable us to interrogate the texts in new ways that the study of the texts alone tends not to encourage.

I close with an example of how the examination of inscriptions can prompt a more realistic, more down-to-earth reading of textual evidence. Initiation occupies a central position in the Mantramārga, and consequently the treatment of that ceremony takes up much space in the texts not only in the exposition of the details of the ritual but also in theoretical discussions of the nature and purpose of initiation and of the qualifications that entitle persons to receive it. In the last the emphasis is on signs of spiritual readiness such as intense devotion to Śiva, distaste for mundane life, and a realization by the candidate that even the fullest spiritual progress achievable through the brahmanical religion falls short of the true and definitive liberation that he craves. Only if such signs are visible in a person may an Ācārya proceed to bestow initiation, recognizing these as evidence that Śiva himself wishes him to do so, thereby accomplishing the supplicant’s desire. It follows, therefore, that initiation is by its nature a naimittika- ceremony, that is to say, one that unlike regular ritual (nityakarma), whether daily or periodic, is not predetermined as to the time of its occurrence (niyatakāla-) but can only be performed when and if an occasion that requires it arises (nimitte sati).

However, the Senakapāṭ inscription mentioned above reveals that already in the seventh century initiation had become a ceremony for which there was such a regular demand that Saiddhāntika officiants could be required as one of the conditions of their receiving an endowment to hold regular ceremonies for this purpose on predetermined days. The inscription records that a certain Śivarakṣita, described as the brahmin ruler (rājā) of the [Na]vyā[sī] district and therefore evidently a feudatory chief, had a son Devarakṣita who had become a close confidant of king Nannarāja, had been appointed [by him] to govern the Vindhya region of the kingdom and had received various districts as the reward for his services. This Devarakṣita fathered Durgarakṣita, described as a brahmin courtier of Nannarāja’s successor Śivagupta Bālārjuna. He, we learn, built the temple of Śiva where the inscription was found and placed it in the hands of the ascetic Sadāśivacārya, who is described with evident pride as a disciple of a disciple of a person who had been a fellow-disciple with the ascetic Sadyaḥśivācārya, who had moved to this region from the Āmardaka hermitage. To fund the activities of the establishment Durgarakṣita donated eight Halas of agricultural land in three villages with the following stipulation:

22 āṣāḍhe kārttike māse māghe ca prativatsaram |
paurṇṇamāsyāṃ vidhātavyo vidhir yāgasya yatnataḥ ‖
23 nirvvāṇadakṣadīkṣāyā vyākhyāyāḥ samayasya ca |

EI 31:5

Every year on the full-moon days of the months Āṣāḍha, Kārttika, and Māgha a ceremony of [Maṇḍala] worship and the initiation that has the power to bestow liberation must be scrupulously performed, and the doctrine expounded [from the sacred texts].

No such arrangement for initiation is envisaged in the Śaiva texts known to me. They at most recommend certain seasons, months, and days as more or less auspicious and condemn others, inconsistently from text to text, sometimes also specifying that an initiation performed in a certain month will bring about this or that benefit or disaster, at least for those initiands who are seeking mundane rewards rather than liberation alone. Of the three full-moon days specified in this inscription two, those of Āṣāḍha and Kārtika, are recommended by our sources, but not both by a single source, the first in the Saiddhāntika Paddhati Siddhāntaśekhara of Viśvanātha and the second in the Saiddhāntika scripture Svāyambhuvasūtrasaṃgraha. The third, that of Māgha, is singled out in no text to my knowledge.84 In a third classification, given by Manodaguru in the Kashmirian Kalādīkṣāpaddhati, which states specific benefits and losses that result from initiations performed in each of the months, initiation in the three months specified here is beneficial.85 But even if the choice of these three full-moon days was dictated by a prescriptive tradition related to that seen in Kashmir, it remains the case that a regulation that initiation must be performed every year on these three days as a condition imposed by the benefactor is altogether irregular from a Śāstric point of view. It is one thing to recommend certain months or even days if the occasion for initiation should arise and quite another to write such events into the calendar as permanent fixtures.

This routinization, in which that which should be naimittika- became effectively nitya-, is perhaps the inevitable consequence of the Mantramārga’s success and should be read as evidence of that. For the arrangement stipulated here implies a steady stream of people who would present themselves for initiation, perhaps based principally on age, social status, and family tradition, especially since it was normal, as in the Buddhist Mantranaya, to initiate several people in a single ceremony. Striking also is the requirement that the samayaḥ should be expounded on these occasions. Since in this context the term samayaḥ is surely in the meaning ‘doctrine’, it must denote the doctrine of the scriptures of the Mantramārga and since it is ruled that one may not teach these scriptures to uninitiated lay-devotees,86 it follows that the regulation envisages initiates, probably those initiated on previous occasions by the Ācārya of this foundation as well as the initiates of the day, assembling for instruction on these special occasions, an arrangement that seems to envisage not ascetics but those in the world with other concerns.

Mantramārgic Śaivism in seventh-century Dakṣiṇa Kosala seems, then, already to have become routinized and part-time in a manner characteristic perhaps of every successful religious movement, and to a degree that the high-minded authors of the learned exegesis would naturally have been loathe to acknowledge. Indeed it may well be that much of the high-mindedness that conceals such realities is in fact part of an effort to counteract the drift into mundane religiosity that they represent, born from an accurate awareness that the price of such success is the loss of any strong sense of what it is that justifies the claim of this tradition that its ceremonies are operating on an altogether higher level. This is why the epigraphical evidence is so valuable: it allows us to glimpse mundane realities that the learned literature is designed to rise above.


  1. AREAnnual Reports on Indian Epigraphy
  2. ASIArchaeological Survey of India
  3. CIICorpus Inscriptionum Indicarum → Konow 1929 (CII 2i), Mirashi 1955 (CII 4), Trivedi 1978 (CII 7ii)
  4. ECEpigraphia Carnatica
  5. EIEpigraphia Indica
  6. IAIndian Antiquary
  7. IAPMDInscriptions of Andhra Pradesh, Mahabūbnagar District → Ramachandra Murthy and Naidu 2003
  8. IARIndian Archaeology: A Review
  9. IEPInscriptions of the Early Pāṇḍyas → Krishnan 2002
  10. INDInscriptions from Nanded District → Ritti and Shelke 1968
  11. JESIJournal of the Epigraphical Society of India
  12. LKALicchavikālakā Abhilekha. → Vajrācārya 1996
  13. NAKNational Archives, Kathmandu
  14. NGMPPNepal-German Manuscript Preservation Project, microfilm reel number
  15. SEAPSelect Epigraphs of Andhra Pradesh → Parabrahma Sastry 1970
  16. SISelect Inscriptions → Sircar 1965
  17. SIISouth Indian Inscriptions


Sanskrit, Prakrit, and Pali Texts

Āgamaprāmāṇya of Yāmunācārya, ed. M. Narasimhachary. Gaekwad’s Oriental Series 160. Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1976.

Kalādīkṣāpaddhati of Manoda. Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute MS 157 of 1886–1892: paper; Śāradā script.

Kiraṇa with the commentary (-vṛtti) of Bhaṭṭa Rāmakaṇṭha II. → Goodall 1998.

Kriyākramadyotikā of Aghoraśivācārya with the commentary (-prabhā) of Nirmalamaṇi, ed. Rāmaśāstrin and Ambalavānajñānasambandhaparāśaktisvāmin. Cidambaram, 1927.

Gaṇakārikā with the commentary (-ratnaṭīkā), ed. C.D. Dalal. Gaekwad’s Oriental Series 15. Baroda: Central Library, 1920.

Cullaniddesa (Niddesa 2), ed. W. Stede. London: Oxford University Press for the Pali Text Society 1918.

Jñānaratnāvalī of Jñānaśivācārya. Pondicherry, IFI, ms t. 231.

Tantrāloka of Abhinavagupta with the commentary (-viveka) of Rājānaka Jayaratha, ed. Mukund Rām Śāstrī. Kashmir Series of Texts and Studies 23, 28, 30, 35, 29, 41, 47, 59, 52, 57, 58. Bombay and Srinagar, 1918–1938.

Dasaveyāliyasutta [Daśavaikālikasūtra] with the commentary (-niryukti) of Bhadrabāhu and the commentary (-cūrṇi) of Agastyasiṃha, ed. Muni Puṇyavijaya. Prakrit Text Series 17. Ahmedabad: Prakrit Text Society, 2003.

Niśvāsamukha. = Niśvāsatattvasaṃhitā, ff. 42r5–114v.

Niśvāsatattvasaṃhitā NAK MS 1–277, NGMPP A 41/14: palm-leaf; Licchavi script; undated; c. ad850–900.

Pañcārtha, Pañcārthabhāṣya. → Pāśupatasūtra.

Pampāmāhātmya, Uttarabhāga, Adhyāyas 11–16, ed. V. Filliozat in Filliozat 2001, pp. 96– 152.

Pāśupatasūtra (= Pañcārtha) with the commentary (Pañcārthabhāṣya) of Bhagavat Kauṇḍinya, ed. R. Anantakrishna Sastri. Trivandrum Sanskrit Series 143. Trivandrum: University of Travancore, 1940.

Prāyaścittasamuccaya of Trilocanaśiva. Pondicherry, Institut français d’Indologie, MS T. 1060.

Mahāniddesa, parts 1 and 2 (Niddesa 1), ed. L. de La Vallée Poussin and E.J. Thomas. Oxford: Oxford University Press for the Pali Text Society, 2001. Part 1 first published in 1916. Part II first published in 1917. Combined reprint 1978.

Mahābhāṣya: Vyākaraṇamahābhāṣya of Patañjali, with Kaiyaṭa’s Bhāṣyapradīpa and Nāgojibhaṭṭa’s Bhāṣyapradīpoddyota, ed. Acharya Guruprasada Shastri. Delhi: Pratibha Prakashan. Reprint. 2001. 1st ed. 1938.

Mahotsavavidhi of Aghoraśiva, ed. C. Swaminatha Sivacarya. Madras: South Indian Archakar Association, 1974.

Lalitavistara, ed. P.L. Vaidya. Darbhanga: Mithila Institute of Post-Graduate Studies and Research in Sanskrit Learning, 1958.

Saṃskāravidhi. → Acharya 2007.

Siddhāntaśekhara of Viśvanātha. Pondicherry, Institut français d’Indologie, MS T. 57.

Skandapurāṇa, Adhyāya 167. → Bisschop 2006.

Svacchanda: Svacchandatantra with the commentary (Svacchandoddyota) of Rājānaka Kṣemarāja, ed. Madhusūdan Kaul Śāstrī. Kashmir Series of Texts and Studies 31, 38, 44, 48, 51, 53, 56. Bombay, 1921–1935.

Svāyambhuvasūtrasaṃgraha, ed. Veṅkaṭasubrahmaṇyaśāstrī, Mysore, 1937.

Other References

Acharya, Diwakar. 1977. Madhyakālmā Nepāl āekā yogī Śaṅkarācārya hoīnan. Ṛtambharā 2,2, pp. 76–96.

Annual Reports on Epigraphy (1887–1981). 1986. New Delhi: The Director General, ASI. Reprint.

Bakker, Hans T. 2000a. Tala Revisited. In South Asian Archaeology 1997. Proceedings of the Fourteenth International Conference of the European Association of South Asian Archaeologists, edited by Maurizio Taddei and Giuseppe De Marco (Rome, 2000 [= 2001]), vol. 3, pp. 1155–1170.

---. 2000b. Somaśarman, Somavaṃśa and Somasiddhānta: A Pāśupata tradition in seventh-century Dakṣiṇa Kosala [Studies in the Skandapurāṇa III]. In Harānandalaharī. Volume in Honour of Professor Minoru Hara on his Seventieth Birthday, edited by Ryutaro Tsuchida and Albrecht Wezler (Reinbek: Dr. Inge Wezler, Verlag für Orientalische Publikationen), pp. 1–19.

Balasubrahmanyam, S.R. 1971. Early Chola Temples: Parantaka I to Rajaraja I, A.D. 907–985. Bombay, Orient Longman.

---. 1975. Middle Chola Temples: Rajaraja I to Kulottunga I, A.D. 985–1070. Faridabad: Thomson Press (India).

---. 1979. Later Chola Temples: Kulottunga I to Rajendra III (A.D. 1070–1280). [Madras]: Mudgala Trust.

Bhandarkar, D.R. 1906. An Ekliṅgjī Stone Inscription and the Origin and History of the Lakulīśa Sect. Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 22, pp. 151–165.

Bisschop, Peter C. 2006. Early Śaivism and the Skandapurāṇa: Sects and Centres. Groningen Oriental Studies 21. Groningen: Egbert Forsten.

Cousens Henry. 1931. Mediaeval Temples of the Dakhan. Calcutta: Government of India.

Donaldson, Thomas E. 1985–1987. Hindu Temple Art of Orissa. 3 vols. Leiden: Brill.

Dutt, Nalinaksha (with the assistance of D.M. Bhattacharya and Shiv Nath Sharma). 1939–1959. Gilgit Manuscripts. 4 volumes (volume 3 in 3 parts). Srinagar: His Highness’ Government, Jammu and Kashmir, 1939–1959.

Epigraphia Carnatica. 1885–1965. Mysore Archaeological Department, Madras/Bangalore/ Mysore.

Epigraphia Indica. 1892–1992 (vols. 1–42), 2011 (vol. 43, part 1). Calcutta/Delhi: ASI.

Filliozat, Vasundhara. 2001. Kālāmukha and Pāśupata Temples in Dharwar. Chennai: The Kuppuswami Swami Research Institute.

Ghurye, G.S. with the collaboration of L.N. Chapekar. 1963. Indian Sādhus. 2nd ed. Bombay: Popular Prakashan. First edition Bombay: Popular Book Depot, 1953.

Gnoli, Raniero. ed. with the assistance of T. Venkatacharya. 1977 and 1978. The Gilgit Manuscript of the Saṅghabhedavastu, Being the 17th and Last Section of the Vinaya of the Mūlasarvāstivādin. 2 Parts (Part 1: 1977). Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio es Estremo Oriente.

Gombrich, Richard F. 1996. How Buddhism Began: The Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings (Jordan Lectures in Comparative Religion 17). London and Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Athlone.

Goodall, Dominic. 1998. Bhaṭṭa Rāmakaṇṭha II’s Commentary on the Kiraṇatantra. Volume I: chapters 1–6. Critical edition and annotated translation. Publications du département d’Indologie 86.1. Pondicherry: Institut français d’Indologie / École française d’Extrême-Orient.

Goodall, Dominic and Harunaga Isaacson. 2007. Workshop on the Niśvāsatattvasaṃhitā: The Earliest Surviving Śaiva Tantra? Newsletter of the Nepal-German Cataloguing Project, Number 3, pp. 4–6.

Indian Archaeology: A Review. New Delhi: Department of Archaeology (1953/54–1959/60), ASI (1960/61–2000/2001), Government of India, 1954–2005.

Jain, Kailash Chand. 1972. Malwa through the Ages: from the Earliest Time to 1305 A.D. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Khan, Abdul Waheed. 1973. Stone Sculptures in the Ālampūr Museum. Andhra Pradesh Government Archaeological Series 39. Hyderabad: Government of Andhra Pradesh.

Konow, Sten. 1929. Kharoshṭhī Inscriptions, with the exception of those of Aśoka. CII 2i. Calcutta: Government of India, Central Publications Branch.

Kreisel, Gerd. 1986. Die Śiva-Bildwerke der Mathurā-Kunst: ein Beitrag zur frühhinduistischen Ikonographie. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.

Krishnan, K.G. 2002. Inscriptions of the Early Pāṇḍyas: from c. 300B.C. to 984 A.D. New Delhi: Northern Book Centre in association with the Indian Council of Historical Research.

Lorenzen, David N. 1991. The Kāpālikas and Kālāmukhas. Two Lost Śaivite Sects, New Delhi: Thomson. 2nd, revised edition.

Lüders, H. 1961. Mathurā Inscriptions (Unpublished Papers Edited by Klaus Janert). Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen, Philologisch-Historische Klasse, Dritte Folge, no. 43. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Maithrimurthi, Mudagamuwa and Alexander von Rospatt. 1998. Review of Gombrich 1996. Indo-Iranian Journal 41, pp. 164–179.

Majumdar, Susmita Basu. 2007. Re-editing the Junwani Copper Plate Inscription of Mahāśivagupta Bālārjuna, Regnal Year 57. In Kalhār: Studies in Art, Iconography, Architecture, and Archaeology of India and Bangladesh, edited by Gouriswar Bhattacharya et al. (New Delhi: Kaveri Books), pp. 286–295.

Marshall, John. 1931. Mohenjo-daro and the Indus Civilization, Being an Official Account of the Archaeological Excavations at Mohenjo-Daro Carried Out by the Government India Between the Years 1922 and 1927. London: Probsthain.

Meister, Michael. ed. 1984. Discourses on Śiva: Proceedings of a Symposium on the Nature of Religious Imagery. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Mirashi, Vasudev Vishnu. 1955. Inscriptions of the Kalachuri-Chedi Era. CII 4. 2 Parts. Ootacamund: Government Epigraphist for India.

von Mitterwallner, Gritli. 1984. Evolution of the Liṅga. In Meister 1984, pp. 12–31.

Nandimath. S.C. 1979. A Handbook of Vīraśaivism (edited by R.N. Nandi with a foreword by R.D. Ranade). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. First published in 1942 (Dharwar: Literary Committee, L.E. Association).

Ozhâ, Vajeshaṅkar G. 1889. The Somanāthpattan Praśasti of Bhāva Bṛhaspati. With an introduction by G. Bühler. Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Morgenlandes 3, pp. 1–19.

Parabrahma Sastry, P.V. 1970. Select Epigraphs of Andhra Pradesh. Archaeological Series 31. Hyderabad: Government of Andhra Pradesh.

[Peterson, Peter]. [n.d. (1894)]. A Collection of Prakrit and Sanskrit Inscriptions, Bhavnagar. Bhavnagar: The Bhavnagar Archaeological Department.

Rajaguru, Satyanarayanan. 1966. Inscriptions of Orissa, Volume 4. Bhubaneswar: Research and Museum, Government of Orissa.

Ramachandra Murthy, N.S. and P. Naidu. 2003. Inscriptions of Andhra Pradesh: Mahabūbnagar District. Hyderabad: Dept. of Archaeology and Museums, Govt. of Andhra Pradesh. 2 vols.

Ramesh, K.V. and S.P. Tewari. 1990. A Copper-plate Hoard of the Gupta Period from Bagh, Madhya Pradesh. New Delhi: ASI.

Ritti, Shrinivas and G.C. Shelke. 1968. Inscriptions from Nanded District. Nanded: Yashwant Mahavidyalaya.

Sanderson, Alexis. 2001. History Through Textual Criticism in the Study of Śaivism, the Pañcarātra and the Buddhist Yoginītantras. In Les sources et le temps. Sources and Time. A Colloquium, Pondicherry, 11–13 January 1997, edited by François Grimal, pp. 1–47. Publications du département d’Indologie 91. Pondicherry: IFI / École française d’Extrême-Orient.

---. 2004. The Śaiva Religion Among the Khmers, Part I. Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient 90 (2003–2004), pp. 352–464.

---. 2006a. The Lākulas: New Evidence of a System Intermediate Between Pāñcārthika Pāśupatism and Āgamic Śaivism. Indian Philosophical Annual 26 (2003–2005), pp. 143–217.

---. 2006b. The Date of Sadyojyotis and Bṛhaspati. In Tantra and Viśiṣṭādvaitavedānta, edited by Marzenna Czerniak-Drożdżowicz (Cracow Indological Studies 8. Kraków: Jagiellonian University, Institute of Oriental Philology), pp. 39–91.

---. 2009. The Śaiva Age: An Explanation of the Rise and Dominance of Śaivism during the Early Medieval Period. In Genesis and Development of Tantrism, edited by Shingo Einoo (Tokyo: Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo), pp. 41–349.

---. 2011. Handout of ‘The Appropriation of Śaiva Sources and Models in the Production of Jain Ritual Paddhatis from the 10th to the 15th Century’, lecture, Abteilung für Kultur und Geschichte Indiens und Tibets, Asien-Afrika-Institut, University of Hamburg, 4 July 2011. Available online.

Settar, S. 1992. The Hoysaḷa Temples. Bangalore: Institute of Indian Art History, Karnataka University, Dharwad and Kala Yatra Publications.

Shastri, Ajay Mitra. 2001. Malhār/Junwani Plates of Mahāśivagupta, year 57. JESI 27, pp. 25– 48.

Sircar, D.C. 1965. Select Inscriptions Bearing on Indian History and Civilization Volume I: From the Sixth Century B.C. to the Sixth Century A.D. Delhi: Asian Humanities Press (India). 2nd ed., rev. and enl.

---. 1983. Mūrtiśiva’s Bangarh Praśasti of the Time of Nayapāla. Journal of Ancient Indian History 13 (1980–1982), pp. 34–56.

South Indian Inscriptions. ASI. Madras/Delhi, 1890–.

Srinivasan, Doris. 1976. The So-Called Proto-Śiva Seal from Mohenjo-Daro: An Iconological Assessment. Archives of Asian Art 29, pp. 47–58.

Stein, Burton. 1977. Temples in Tamil Country, 1300–1750A.D. Indian Economic and Social History Review 14, pp. 11–45.

Suresh, K.M. 2003. Temples of Karnataka (Ground Plans and Elevations). 2 vols. Delhi: Bharatiya Kala Prakashan.

Swamy B.G.L. 1975. The Gōlaki School of Śaivism in the Tamil Country. Journal of Indian History 53, pp. 167–209.

Talbot, Cynthia. 2001. Precolonial India in Practice: Society, Region, and Identity in Medieval Andhra. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Trivedi, Harihar Vitthal. 1978. Inscriptions of the Paramāras. Part 2 of Inscriptions of the Paramāras, Chandēllas, Kachchapaghātas and Two Minor Dynasties. CII 7 ii. New Delhi: Director General, ASI.

Tsukamoto, Keisho. 1996. Indo-bukkyō-himei no kenkyū [A Comprehensive Study of the Indian Buddhist Inscriptions]. 2 vols. Kyoto: Heirakuji-Shoten.

Vajrācārya, Dhanavajra. 1996 [Vikramasaṃvat 2053]. Licchavikālakā Abhilekha [Inscriptions of the Licchavi Period] [Nepali]. Kathmandu: Nepāla ra Eśiyālī Anusandhāna Kendra, Tribhuvana Viśvavidyālaya.

Willis, Michael D. 1997. Temples of Gopakṣetra. A Regional History of Architecture and Sculpture in Central India ad600–900. London: British Museum.


I wish to express my gratitude to Dr. Nina Mirnig and drs. Natasja Bosma of the University of Groningen for bringing about and organizing the symposium Epigraphical Evidence for the Formation and Rise of Early Śaivism that took place at their university in June 2012, for inviting me to give the keynote address, and for their work as editors of this volume. The text that follows is a written version of the unwritten text that I presented on that occasion. In preparing it for publication I wrote extensive annotation to support the positions that I put forward. But since the resulting study is too large for this volume, I publish a short version here, substituting for the supporting commentary brief reference footnotes in which I have identified the inscriptions and textual sources on which I am basing my statements and any secondary sources on which I have drawn, and dropping some parts of the text, mostly indicating in footnotes where I have done so. The full text will be published independently. I wish also to express my gratitude to the University of Hamburg’s Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (Sonderforschungsbereich 950) and to the Department of Indological Studies in the Graduate School of Letters, Kyoto University, for the invitations, excellent facilities, and supportive collegiality that have enabled me to pursue my research and writing in these thriving centres of Indology during sabbatical leave through most of 2012. This study is one of the outcomes of this period.


Goodall and Isaacson 2007, p. 6.


IA 11, pp. 220–223.


Mahābḥāṣya on 5.3.99, 5.2.76, and 6.3.26.


Marshall 1931, vol. 1, pp. 52–56.


7.21.5 and 10.99.3.


Gombrich 1996, pp. 135–164.


Maithrimurthi and von Rospatt 1998, pp. 169–173.


The claim (Gombrich 1996, pp. 160–161) that there is a reference to teachings of Śiva in the term sivavijjā in the Brahmajālasutta is addressed in the long version of this study.


Mahāniddesa vol. 1, p. 89; and Cullaniddesa pp. 173–174.


CII 2 i:26; SI II:32.


IAR 1981–1982, p. 79, no. 16; EI 41:16.


EI 32:8b.


SI III:63b.


A detailed consideration of this issue is found in the long version of this study.


For names in Śiva- among Buddhist lay donors see the names index Tsukamoto 1996, vol. 2; for the same among Jaina lay donors see Bühler in EI 1:43–44 and 2:14 (1892 and 1894) and Lüders 1961; and his list of nearly 1500 Brāhmī inscriptions, mostly donative, from the earliest times to about ad400 (with the exception of those of Aśoka) published as an appendix to EI 10 (1909–1910).


von Mitterwallner 1984; Srinivasan 1984; Kreisel 1986.


For this evidence see the long version of this study.


Sanderson 2004, pp. 435–444.


Sanderson 2009, pp. 55–70 (Vaiṣṇavism), 124–252 (Tantric Buddhism and the Jaina Mantraśāstra). Evidence of direct textual dependence of the Jaina Mantraśāstra was not presented there, but will be included in a revised and expanded version of that publication. In the meantime some of the evidence can be seen in Sanderson 2011.


See Settar 1992, p. 41 (Karnataka); Suresh 2003 (Karnataka); Balasubrahmanyam 1971, 1975, and 1979 (Tamilnadu); Donaldson 1985–1987 (Orissa); Stein 1977 (Tamilnadu); Talbot 2001, pp. 87–125 (Andhra); Sanderson 2009, pp. 298–300.


This aspect of the Śaivas’ rise to dominance has been explored in Sanderson 2009, pp. 252– 303.


Ramesh and Tewari 1990.


EI 21:1.


Pañcārthabhāṣya, pp. 3–4; Skandapurāṇa 167.132–134; EI 1:32, vv. 16–17, Bhandarkar 1906, vv. 13–14, and EI 30:3, vv. 11–12.


This argument was formulated by D.R. Bhandarkar in the introduction to his edition of this inscription (EI 21:1, pp. 5–7).


Pañcārthabhāṣya on 1.2, 1.5, 1.10, and 1.11; Saṃskāravidhi 14.


Saṃskāravidhi 37. Cf. Pañcārtha 2.8–10 and Pañcārthabhāṣya on 2.9.


Ozhâ 1889, vv. 12–33.


Ibid., v. 6.


Ibid., v. 8c. See also Peterson 1894, Solaṅki dynasty, no. 10, v. 16ab.


Pañcārthabhāṣya, p. 22.


Svacchanda 4.87–88 and 147c–148b (→Tantrāloka 15.24c–26b and 15.31abc); Kiraṇa 6.5; Bhaṭṭa Rāmakaṇṭha, Kiraṇavṛtti thereon.


Jñānaratnāvalī, p. 632; Lakṣaṇasamuccaya, 2.169. See also the Kashmirian Bṛhatkālottara and the south-Indian Kāmikāgama cited in Sanderson 2009, pp. 274–275, fn. 652.


Pañcārthabhāṣya, pp. 19–21, inferring the rule from 1.13 and 5.7.


Ozhâ 1889, vv. 34–38.


Peterson 1894, Solaṅki dynasty, no. 10, vv. 11–13.


EI 41:4b.


IA 6, p. 2045, l. 3.


EI 1:32, vv. 43ab and 44cd.


EI 1:32, vv. 40–45.


See for example, LKA 112 and 139; EI 32:13; 21:44ii; 2:8; 30:3; 25:18; and 38:53.


See Goodall and Isaacson 2007, p. 6 and Sanderson 2006a.


See Lorenzen 1991, pp. 97–167.


See, e.g., IND 40, prose followed by v. 35ab.


E.g. EI 15:6 (i); IA 8, pp. 10–23, No. 50; EI 26:43.


See, e.g., IND 3.


See, e.g., EI 3:30, 3:33, 4:30, 5:25b, 7:28d, 13:14, 14:19a, 15:3a, 15:6g–k, 15:20, 15:21, 16:1, 16:7, 17:9, 18:22e, 19:4b, 19:29a–f, 19:37b, 20:12a, 26:43, 28:5, 35:35, 36:19, 38:24, 38:39, 38:50, 40:27a; IA 10, pp. 126–131; 12, pp. 256–258; 13, pp. 91–94; JESI 22:24.


EI 6:10; 18:22i; 18:22k; 23:25; IA 13, pp. 91–94.


EI 23:25; 35:21a; IA 5, pp. 45–50; ARE 31 of 1939–1940, = KI 1, pp. 71ff.; SII 11:156; EC 8 Sb 276; EI 5:25b.


EI 18:22f; IA 8, pp. 20–21.


Pañcārthabhāṣya p. 8, ll. 20–23; and p. 17, ll. 6–7.


Jñānaratnāvali, p. 307. Cf. Saṃskāravidhi 84ab.


IND 40, prose before v. 35.


Niśvāsamukha, f. 17v2–3 (4.88c–91).


Āgamaprāmāṇya p. 94.


Pampāmāhātmya, Uttarabhāga 15 (Kālāmukhamatanirūpaṇa), vv. 3c–11.


EI 7:28d; 17:2; 6:10, v. 40; 12:32b; SII 9:101 and 9:102.


See, for examples EI 5:3d, 5:25 and 15:6j; SII 15:14 (ARE 461 of 1926); EC 4 Hg 66; EC 12 Ck 11, 20, 40, and 43; EC 12 Tp 12, 43, 56, 91, 104, and 123b; Khan 1973, inscriptions 3 and 13; IND 24 and 40; and IAR 1971–1972, p. 56.


A review of the epigraphical evidence of Atimārga III is given in the long version of this study.


The Malhar/Junwani copper-plate inscription of Śivagupta Bālārjuna (Bakker 2000a and 2000b, Shastri 2001, and Majumdar 2007); IA 9, p. 124, ll. 17–21; EI 37:8; EC 12 Si 38; SII 9:32; IAPMD 1:56, ll. 14–37; SEAP 4; CII 7ii:15; IAR 1985–1986, p. 95, no. 22; IAPMD 1:119; EI 16:8a–c; SII 8:529; IEP 103, ll. 2–3; ARE 1926–1927, pp. 76–78; SII 3:18; ARE 403 of 1896, 371 of 1911, and 206 of 912.


EC 12 Si 38; EI 16:8a–c.


Ghurye 1964, p. 128.


Lorenzen 1991, p. 142.


Lorenzen 1991, p. 5. Cf. Nandimath 1979, p. 5.


Goodall and Isaacson 2007, p. 6.


Sanderson 2006a.


Agastyasiṃha’s commentary on the Jain Dasaveyāliyasutta, Gāthā 237, p. 232. For the date, which is uncertain, I accept provisionally Dundas 2002, p. 6. Refutation of claims that the references to Kāpālikas in the Lalitavistara and the Yavanajātaka point to their existence well before the fifth century will be presented in the long version of this study.


Sanderson 2001, pp. 8–10, fn. 6.


Sanderson 2001, pp. 10–11, fn. 7; 2006b, pp. 67–68.


Sanderson 2006b, pp. 45–79.


For this and other striking differences in the Niśvāsa’s Śaivism from that of the mature Siddhānta see Goodall and Isaacson 2007, pp. 5–6.


EI 31:5, vv. 16–17.


Jñānaratnāvalī pp. 307, 642; Mahotsavavidhi p. 424; Prāyaścittasamuccaya, vv. 1–2; Tantrāloka 36.12, and 37.60 (emending the edition’s ānandasaṃtati- to āmardasaṃtati-); Acharya 1977, v. 5; Sircar 1983, vv. 5–6.


Mirashi, CII 4i, p. clii, fn. 3.


Jain 1972, p. 413.


Rajaguru 1966, pp. 349–350.


Willis 1997 p. 51, p. 63, n. 13, p. 103 (map).


Swamy 1975, pp. 176–177.


IND 40, v. 6cd of the Praśasti and v. 6ab of the grant.


Cited by V.A. Kanole in his preface to Ritti and Shelke 1968. See also Thosar 1980.


See Cousens 1931, pp. 77–78.


Sanderson 2009, pp. 260–272.


Sanderson 2009, pp. 258–259.


See Siddhāntaśekhara, p. 235 (Śivadīkṣāvidhi, vv. 111b–114); Svāyambhuvasūtrasaṃgraha 11.3 and 5.


Kalādīkṣāpaddhati f. 10r–v.


See, e.g., Svacchanda 5.51cd and Kriyākramadyotikāprabhā, p. 354.

  • 1

    Goodall and Isaacson 2007p. 6.

  • 4

    Marshall 1931vol. 1 pp. 52–56.

  • 6

    Gombrich 1996pp. 135–164.

  • 7

    Maithrimurthi and von Rospatt 1998pp. 169–173.

  • 8

    The claim (Gombrich 1996pp. 160–161) that there is a reference to teachings of Śiva in the term sivavijjā in the Brahmajālasutta is addressed in the long version of this study.

  • 18

    Sanderson 2004pp. 435–444.

  • 19

    Sanderson 2009pp. 55–70 (Vaiṣṇavism) 124–252 (Tantric Buddhism and the Jaina Mantraśāstra). Evidence of direct textual dependence of the Jaina Mantraśāstra was not presented there but will be included in a revised and expanded version of that publication. In the meantime some of the evidence can be seen in Sanderson 2011.

  • 20

    See Settar 1992p. 41 (Karnataka); Suresh 2003 (Karnataka); Balasubrahmanyam 1971 1975 and 1979 (Tamilnadu); Donaldson 1985–1987 (Orissa); Stein 1977 (Tamilnadu); Talbot 2001 pp. 87–125 (Andhra); Sanderson 2009 pp. 298–300.

  • 22

    Ramesh and Tewari 1990.

  • 28

    Ozhâ 1889vv. 12–33.

  • 30

    Ibid. v. 8c. See also Peterson 1894Solaṅki dynasty no. 10 v. 16ab.

  • 35

    Ozhâ 1889vv. 34–38.

  • 36

    Peterson 1894Solaṅki dynasty no. 10 vv. 11–13.

  • 42

    See Goodall and Isaacson 2007p. 6 and Sanderson 2006a.

  • 43

    See Lorenzen 1991pp. 97–167.

  • 46

    See e.g.IND 3.

  • 62

    Ghurye 1964p. 128.

  • 63

    Lorenzen 1991p. 142.

  • 64

    Lorenzen 1991p. 5. Cf. Nandimath 1979 p. 5.

  • 65

    Goodall and Isaacson 2007p. 6.

  • 66

    Sanderson 2006a.

  • 68

    Sanderson 2001pp. 8–10 fn. 6.

  • 69

    Sanderson 2001pp. 10–11 fn. 7; 2006b pp. 67–68.

  • 70

    Sanderson 2006bpp. 45–79.

  • 75

    Jain 1972p. 413.

  • 76

    Rajaguru 1966pp. 349–350.

  • 78

    Swamy 1975pp. 176–177.

  • 81

    See Cousens 1931pp. 77–78.

  • 82

    Sanderson 2009pp. 260–272.

  • 83

    Sanderson 2009pp. 258–259.

  • 86

    See e.g.Svacchanda 5.51cd and Kriyākramadyotikāprabhā p. 354.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • 1

    Goodall and Isaacson 2007p. 6.

  • 4

    Marshall 1931vol. 1 pp. 52–56.

  • 6

    Gombrich 1996pp. 135–164.

  • 7

    Maithrimurthi and von Rospatt 1998pp. 169–173.

  • 8

    The claim (Gombrich 1996pp. 160–161) that there is a reference to teachings of Śiva in the term sivavijjā in the Brahmajālasutta is addressed in the long version of this study.

  • 18

    Sanderson 2004pp. 435–444.

  • 19

    Sanderson 2009pp. 55–70 (Vaiṣṇavism) 124–252 (Tantric Buddhism and the Jaina Mantraśāstra). Evidence of direct textual dependence of the Jaina Mantraśāstra was not presented there but will be included in a revised and expanded version of that publication. In the meantime some of the evidence can be seen in Sanderson 2011.

  • 20

    See Settar 1992p. 41 (Karnataka); Suresh 2003 (Karnataka); Balasubrahmanyam 1971 1975 and 1979 (Tamilnadu); Donaldson 1985–1987 (Orissa); Stein 1977 (Tamilnadu); Talbot 2001 pp. 87–125 (Andhra); Sanderson 2009 pp. 298–300.

  • 22

    Ramesh and Tewari 1990.

  • 28

    Ozhâ 1889vv. 12–33.

  • 30

    Ibid. v. 8c. See also Peterson 1894Solaṅki dynasty no. 10 v. 16ab.

  • 35

    Ozhâ 1889vv. 34–38.

  • 36

    Peterson 1894Solaṅki dynasty no. 10 vv. 11–13.

  • 42

    See Goodall and Isaacson 2007p. 6 and Sanderson 2006a.

  • 43

    See Lorenzen 1991pp. 97–167.

  • 46

    See e.g.IND 3.

  • 62

    Ghurye 1964p. 128.

  • 63

    Lorenzen 1991p. 142.

  • 64

    Lorenzen 1991p. 5. Cf. Nandimath 1979 p. 5.

  • 65

    Goodall and Isaacson 2007p. 6.

  • 66

    Sanderson 2006a.

  • 68

    Sanderson 2001pp. 8–10 fn. 6.

  • 69

    Sanderson 2001pp. 10–11 fn. 7; 2006b pp. 67–68.

  • 70

    Sanderson 2006bpp. 45–79.

  • 75

    Jain 1972p. 413.

  • 76

    Rajaguru 1966pp. 349–350.

  • 78

    Swamy 1975pp. 176–177.

  • 81

    See Cousens 1931pp. 77–78.

  • 82

    Sanderson 2009pp. 260–272.

  • 83

    Sanderson 2009pp. 258–259.

  • 86

    See e.g.Svacchanda 5.51cd and Kriyākramadyotikāprabhā p. 354.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 83 25 0
Full Text Views 186 69 16
PDF Downloads 53 43 8