Shaivistic and Bhakti Roots of Kashmiri Religion

Excerpts from:
The Poplar and the Chinar: Kashmir in a historical outline
Subhash Kak
Louisiana State University Baton Rouge, LA 70803-5901
International Journal of Indian Studies, vol 3, 1993, pp. 33-61.

Subhash KakTo understand the religious divide in the Vale it is necessary to go back to the Shaivite roots of the popular religion. It is important to note that this tradition fits squarely within the greater Indian tradition. The Rigveda presents a monistic view of the universe where an understanding of the nature of consciousness holds the key to the understanding of the world. This is further emphasized in the Upanishads, the six philosophical schools, Buddhist and Jain philosophy, the Shaivite and the Tantric systems. Of course this emphasis varies. And sometimes seemingly different terms represent the same central idea. For example the s unyata (void) of Madhyamika Buddhism and the brahman (universe) of the Upanishads are forms of the monistic absolutes. Two opposite metaphors thus represent the same central idea. Likewise the dualism of Sa m khya and of the Jains is correctly seen as projection of a monistic system of universal consciousness that manifests itself in the categories of the physical world and sentience. A grand exposition of the system, that explains how different perspective fit in the framework, is contained in the Bhagavad Gi ta . Even the Iranian religion of Zarathushtra may be seen as reformulation of the earlier Vedic tradition (Boyce 1975) in the same sense that Vaishnavism is.

Kashmir Shaivism, reached its culmination in the philosophy of Abhinavagupta and Kshemaraja (tenth to eleventh century AD) (Chatterji 1914, Dyczkowski 1987, Gnoli 1968, Kaw 1969, Pandey 1963, Jaideva Singh 1977, 1979, & 1989). Their trika (three-fold) school argued that reality is represented by three categories: transcendental ( para ), material ( apara ), and a combination of these two ( para para ) (Lakshman Jee 1988). This three-fold division is sometimes represented in terms of the principles s iva, s akti, an u or pati, pa s a, pas u . S iva represents the principle behind consciousness, s akti its energy, and an u the material world. At the level of living beings pas u is the individual who acts according to his conditioning, almost like an animal, pa s a are the bonds that tie him to his behaviour, and pati or pas upati (Lord of the Flock) is s iva personified whose knowledge liberates the pas u and makes it possible for him to reach his potential. The mind is viewed as a hierarchical (krama) collection of agents ( kula ) that perceives its true self spontaneously ( pratyabhijna ) with a creative power that may be viewed as being pulsating (spanda) . This last attribute recalls the spenta of the Zarathushtrian religion, where this word represents the power of creation of Ahura Mazda . Thus Kashmir Shaivism appears to have attempted a reconciliation of the Iranian religion with its Vedic parent.

The Pratyabhijn a (recognition) system is named after the book Stanzas on the Recognition of Ishvara or Shiva which was written by Utpala (c 900-950). It appears Utpala was developing the ideas introduced by his teacher Somananda who had written the earlier Vision of Shiva . In Shaivism in general, Shiva is the name for the absolute or transcendental consciousness. Ordinary consciousness is bound by cognitive categories related to conditioned behavior. By exploring the true springwells of ordinary consciousness one comes to recognize its universal (Shiva). This brings the further recognition that one is not a slave (pasu) of creation but its master (pati) . In other words, an intuition of the true nature of one's consciousness provides a perspective that is liberating.

For the spanda system the usual starting point is the Aphorisms of Shiva due to Vasugupta (c 800). His disciple Kallata is generally credited with the Stanzas on Pulsation . According to this school the universal consciousness pulsates of vibrates and this ebb and flow can be experienced by the person who has recognized his true self.

Abhinavagupta wrote a profound commentary on Utpala's Stanzas on Recognition. Shaivite philosophy may be said to have reached its full flowering with his philosophy. Abhinava also wrote more than sixty other works on tantra, poetics, dramaturgy, and philosophy. His disciple Kshemaraja also wrote influential works that dealt with the doctrines of both the schools of Recognition and Pulsation. Abhinava emphasized the fact that all human creativity reveals aspects of the seed consciousness. This explains his own interest in drama, poetry, and aesthetics.

According to the ancient doctrine of Sa m khya physical reality may be represented in terms of twenty-five categories. These categories relate to an everyday classification of reality where prakrti may be likened to matter, and purusa to mind. Kashmir Shaivism adds eleven new categories to this list. These categories characterize different aspects of consciousness.

Any focus of consciousness must first be circumscribed by coordinates of time and space. Next, it is essential to select a process (out of the many defined) for attention. The aspect of consciousness that makes one have a feeling of inclusiveness with this process followed later by a sense of alienation is called maya . Thus maya permits one, by a process of identification and detachment, to obtain limited knowledge and to be creative.

How does consciousness ebb and flow between an identity of self an an identity with the processes of the universe? According to Shaivism, a higher category permits comprehension of oneness and separation with equal clarity. Another allows a visualization of the ideal universe. This permits one to move beyond mere comprehension into a will to act. The final two categories deal with pure consciousness by itself and the potential energy that leads to continuing transformation. Pure awareness is not to be understood as similar to everyday awareness of humans but rather as the underlying schema that the laws of nature express.

Shaiva psychology is optimistic, scientific, secular, and liberating. At the personal level it emphasizes reaching for the springwell of creativity ( sakti ) and the schema underlying this creativity ( siva ). The journey leading to this knowledge may be begun in a variety of ways: through sciences, the arts, and creative social activities. But this exploration of the outside world is to be taken as a means of uncovering the architecture of the inner world. Shaiva psychology also reveals that the notion of bhakti, which has played a central role in the shaping of the Indian mind during the past millennium, may be given a focus related to a quest for knowledge.

The intellectual theories of Kashmir Shaivism were given popular expression by the great mystic Lalleshvari or Lalla (1335-1376). Her sayings, vakya , form the basis of much of the Kashmiri world-view that emerged later. But from Lalla onwards the emphasis did shift to the devotional aspects of Kashmir Shaivism (Temple 1924, Odin 1994). The notion of recognition of one's true self was exalted to the central role in the popular religion including Kashmiri popular Islam that views her va kyas and the sayings of her disciple Sheikh Nur-ud-din (1377-1438), Nanda Rishi , as sources of spiritual wisdom. Two of Lalla's va kya that have been adapted from Bamzai (1962) are given below:


I saw myself in all things
I saw God shining in everything.
You have heard, stop! see Shiva
The house is his, who am I Lalla.

Shiva pervades the world
Hindu and Muslim are the same.
If you are wise know yourself
Then you will know God.

"Lalla is as much a part of Kashmiri language, literature, and culture as Shakespeare is of English" is the assessment of Kachru (1981). Says her own pupil Nanda Rishi:

That Lalla of Padma npor-she drank
Her fill of divine nectar;
She was indeed an avata r of ours.
O God, grant me the self-same boon!

(Kaul 1973)
Nur-ud-din was followed by a large number of Rishis from both the Hindu and the Muslim communities. The Islamic Rishis provided the leadership to the popular religion of the Kashmiri Muslims.

By the end of the nineteenth century the Kashmiri Hindus were about seven percent of the population of the Vale. Within the community itself a two-fold division had taken place by this time. Those who specialized in the secular sphere, studied Persian and undertook administrative employment, became known as the karkuns ; others who did priestly duties requiring knowledge of Sanskrit were termed bhasha bhatta (Sender 1988, Madan 1989). In recent years this sub-division is disappearing and karkun values have become the dominant ethos of the community.