Kashmir Saivism and its Echoes in Kashmiri Poetry

by B. N. Kalla

In this paper, I propose to discuss at some length the salient features of what is known today as Kashmir Savism. Towards the end, I shall talk about the influence of this school of religious thought on Kashmiri poetry. In that context, I shall refer to some vaakhs of Lal Ded and shruks of Nunda Rishi for illustrative support.

Kashmir Saivism, like Mahayana Buddhism, has played a key role in the assimilation of different cultures in Central Asia, while adopting the logic of the Buddhist Acharyas; it refuted the fundamental concept of Shunyavad and looked upon the creation of the absolute as real and as the manifestation of the light of intelligence or universal consciousness. It took the cardinal principles of social equality, individual liberty, absence of dogma and rituals from Buddhism. Like Mahatma Buddha being considered the saviour of mankind, the Saivas regarded the absolute Parma Siva as the creator, preserver and absorber. In his different aspects, he mainfests his shakti and withdraws it when His free will (Swatantrya) demands it. The individual is a mini shiva, who, when he recognizes his true self, becomes one with the universal consiousness. Somananda, the father of Pratyabhijna' philosophy, hailed from Tibet and naturally influenced the thought and ideology of those who lived in Central Asia.

The growth of Islam in Central Asia found a fertile soil there. It was influenced not only by the ideology of the Buddhists but also by that of the Saivas in and outside Kashmir. Their Mathikas (Centres of theological discourse) seem to have been easily accessible to the sufis who were deeply interested in the Buddhist thought. As a result of the synthesis of Buddhism and Islam, Sufism adopted a liberal outlook quite in agreement with the tenets of Saivism. It laid great emphasis on Self-recognition, the pratyabhijna doctrine of the saivas. Like the latter it denounced idolatory and caste and advocated individual freedom in attaining realisation. Though the sufis, like the vedantis, regarded the world as illusory and transitory, this view came closer to the saiva philosophy, with respect to its fundamental principle of an individual's free will and his potential to recognize his true self.

Saivaism is the most ancient faith of the Indian people. We find its roots in one form or another in the prehistoric period of the Indus valley civilization, Though basically pre-Aryan and pre-vedic in its origin, it developed by stages in the vedic religion and became one of the most vital elements of Hinduism in the age of the Epics and Puranas.

From very remote times, Brahmins of Kashmir had been performing vedic rituals which are predominantly vaisnavite in character. The worship of Shiva and Shakti also had become very popular in this land right from the prehistoric ages. There are many prehistorical shrines of Siva in Kashmir.

Kashmir Saivism has achieved distinction as the monistic Saiva philosophy of the Tryambaka school, being the most valuable contribution of Kashmir to the Indian culture. This philosophy had basically originated in the trans-Himalayan areas near the Kailasa around the 4th century A.D. Traymbakaditya, a disciple of the sage Durvasa, was the first teacher of this school. Sangmaditya, the sixteenth desendant in the line of Tryambaks, settled in Kashmir in the eighth century A.D.

Different Saiva scriptures as Malinivijaya tantra, Swacchanda, Netra, Mrigendra etc. were later revealed to different teachers of this school in about a century. Somananda, the fourth descendant of Sangmaditya, 'churned' the ocean of scriptures and extracted from it the 'nectar' consisting precisely of the principles of the monistic saiva philosophy of Kashmir in the 9th century. He expounded those principles in a logical style in his work Sivadrsti, which is the first philosophical treatise on the subject. Utpaladeva, the chief disciple of Somananda, developed this philosophy further in his Isvarapratibhijna and in some works like Sambandhasiddhi, Isvar Siddhi etc. The principles of this philosophy were later explained clearly and interpreted by Abhinavagupta, the grand disciple of Utpaladeva, in the later part of the tenth and the beginning of the 11th century.

The Sivasutras were revealed to Vasugupta, a teacher in the school of Tryambaka, in the 8th century. Kallata, a disciple of Vasugupta, composed the Spanda-Karika in which he explained the principles contained in the Siva-sutras.

In view of the above facts, the saiva philosophical movement reached its zenith from 8th century A.D. to the 12th century A.D. Really, it was a golden age in the field of Indian philosophy, involving the emergence of a new thought in this field. The Saiva monism of Kashmir has a pragmatic approach towards the problems of philosophy. It is not idealistic like the Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism. The universe, according to it, is neither like a mirage nor like the child of a barren woman. It is real for all practical purposes. It exists in the absolute reality in the form of pure limit-less and all comprehending consciousness. That consciousness is called Parama Siva. The universe is nothing but an objective manifestation of His divine powers. He is a reality and his powers are his essence. So his powers are also a reality and the manifestations of those powers too are a reality. He has an ever pure and limit-less consciousness which is full of godly powers and does not undergo any change even when the activities of creation etc. are going on. This is His static aspect in which he is called Siva. The mainfestations of His God-head are comprehended in His sakti. Both are merely two aspects of one and the same absolute, all powerful and independent reality. As the rays of the moon are not different from the moon, similarly shakti or power of Siva is not different from the power-holder (shaktiman). Thus Siva, the male principle in its quiescent state, is whole and absolute, but in its manifested state, it becomes shakti, which is a part and parcel of its nature. The whole, though a part of it as shakti is separated from it, still remains full. Its fulness never ceases. The one becomes many in its active state but at the same time it holds its oneness and perfection. The same idea is explained in this verse:


According to the Vedanta philosophy, the manifestation of the universe is explained to be false and has been denied in the long run, but in Kashmir Saiva philosophy, the manifestation is regarded as based on shakti. Nobody can deny this fact. The apparent world to the saiva philosophy is a thing of enjoyment while in the vedanta system it is false and illusory. Saiva advaita explains that the universe already exists in Siva. Thus the world is the expansion of shakti which is not different from Siva.

Kashmir Saivism accepts no restrictions based on caste, creed, colour and sex etc. Every person can have access to it, both to its theory and to its practice. In practice, it does not prescribe the profession of monks but advises one to live the life of a householder and to practise, side by side, the Saiva yoga for the sake of self-realitization. It does not advocate sannyasahood. It prohibits all suppression of one's emotions and instincts and advocates the path of their sublimation, It does not ignore the worldly and heavenly aims of life consisting in objective enjoyments. It rather advocates a path aimed at both Bhukti (Enjoyment) and Mukti (Liberation), which can be pursued side by side. Too much of discipline regarding food etc. has not been considered to be absolutely essential.

As mentioned above, Kashmir, Saivism was in vogue here for about five centuries from the 8th to the 12th. Kashmiri poetry did not, remain untouched by its influence. The first specimen of Kashmiri poetry is Shitikantha's Mahanaya Prakasha of the '13th century AD., which is in fact the first work of Saivism in the Kashmiri language. This influence has remained prevalent even upto the present time.

The 14th century witnessed a political upheaval in Kashmir, Kuta Rani, the last ruler of Kashmir was murdered by Shahmir. Consequently, he proclaimed himself the Sultan of Kashmir in 1339 A.D. Thus the Hindu rule was uprooted from the soil of Kashmir for about 500 years. It was during this period that Islam spread in Kashmir. Suppression, destruction, demolition of temples and massacre of the Hindus were the policy of the fanatic Sultans of Kashmir. Successive Sultans of Kashmir adopted the policy of Sikandar But-Shikan (iconoclast) except for Zain-Ul-Ab-Din /Budshah (1423-1474 A.D.). The only ray of hope for the suppressed masses was the message of the Sufis.

Suflism was introduced here by the Sayids and their followers who came from Persia and Central Asia to settle down here in the 14th century. The spread of Sufism side by side with that of Saivism (Pratyabhijna philosophy) brought about the growth of a composite humanitarian thought in the valley. This composite Saiva-cum Sufi philosophy consciously or unconsciously has influenced the people of Kashmir.

We cannot ignore the remarkable contribution of Lalleshwari or Lal Ded (B. 1335 A.D.) in the field of the Kashmiri Language. She was the first Kashmiri poetess who expersed the Saiva philosphy in a charming poetic style in the modem Kashmiri language. She was followed in the tradition by many mystic poets, both Hindus and Muslims. She preached this philosphy in the language of the masses (the then Kashmiri) and not in Sanskrit. She denounced rituals, narrow-mindedness, fanaticism and the debasing distinction of caste. Moreover she gave the message of universal brotherhood, peace and love based on the, Upanishads. What follows now are a couple of vaakhs of Lal Ded along with their translation


Shiva is all-pervading (present in each particle), never differentiates between a Hindu and a Muslim. If you are intelligent, know thy own self, that is God-realization.


Lalla willingly entered through the gardengate, there, joy ! I found Siva united with Sakti; ' there and then I got absorbed, drinking at the lake of Nectar. Immune to harm am I, dead as I am to the world, though still alive.

Lalla entered the Samadhi. In that state, what did she see? Siva, the Transcendental Being, united with his power of manifestation, Sakti. She was now totally free from all kinds of doubts based on the sense of duality. The nectar of bliss was within her easy reach, not in drops but in the form of a lake. She attained (parmananda) the state of the highest bliss.


You are the sky and you are the earth. You are the day, the atmosphere and the night, You are the grains, the sandal (wood), flowers and water; You being everything yourself, What can be offered to you in worship.

Everything in the universe is Divine manifestation, and parma siva inheres in all that exists. His nature has primarily two-fold aspects, an immanent aspect in which He pervades the universe, and a transcendental aspect in which He is beyond all universal manifestations.

Nunda Rishi was one of the Sufi poets of Kashmir who was a younger contemporary of Lalla. He is considered the founder of the Rishi cult in the valley. He introduced a new poetic form in Kashmir- the shruk comparable to Lalla Vaakh. His shruks (slokas) are very popular among the Kashmiris. Nunda Rishi's philosophy is very akin to pratyabhijna philosophy according to which parma siva can be realized in one's own self. This is precisely what Nunda Rishi also says in the following shruks:


He is in me, I am in Him. I experienced bliss in his company. It was futile of me to seek Him in an alien land. I found- Him in my own country-my own self.

Nunda Rishi completely indentifies himself with the Absolute Reality. It is through his merger with Him that he attained bliss. This is clarified by him further in another shruka :


He is here, He is there, He pervades all. He is all-in-all, concealed and transcendent. (in the form of pure consciousness).

In the following verses, Nunda Rishi refers to his search, for the divine - an inward quest (the mystics talk of) :


I forsook everything and took shelter in you. When I got hold of you in my own self, I merged with you. (in that state there is no duality at all. Nunda Rishi thus realized absolute reality in himself)


Oh God ! bless me with the boon that I may scale the Kailas. (This indicates the strong urge of Nunda Rishi to merge with the absolute reality, so that he attains the very seat of the Supreme.)


1. M.A. Stein : Edited Kalhana's Rajatarangini vol. II (English translation).
2. Prof. Shri Kanth Kaul : Edited Jona Raja's Rajatarangini.
3. Prof J. L. Kaul : Lal Ded.
4. Dr. R.K. Kaw: Doctrine of Recognition.
5. Dr. B.N. Pandit : Aspects of Kashmir Saivism.
6. Prof. B.N. Parimoo : Ascent of Self.
7. Dr. B.N. Kalla : Koshur Shaivmat, published by Kashmir University, Srinagar.

[The author, Dr. B. N. Kalla, is well-known for his writings. He is a reputed scholar of Sanskrit, conversant with Kashmir Saivism]