Various ancient Hindu texts list four different branches of the Shaivite tradition. All sects that followed arose out of these four original branches.
1. The Pashupata branch of Shaivism is considered the most ancient, and derived directly from the Vedas. Some speculate that the Pashupata branch may have been in existence as far back in history as the Indus-Sarasvati Civilization. It is believed that the Pashupata philosophy was essentially dualistic, although no specific Pashupata texts have thus far been discovered. According to different sources and opinions, Sage Shvetasvatara (teacher of the Shvetasvatara Upanishad), Sage Akshapada Gotama (expounder of the Nyaya philosophy), Sage Kanada (expounder of the Vaisheshika philosophy), Sage Panini (composer of the Ashtadhyayi), and Sage Badarayana Vyasa (expounder of the Vedanta philosophy) were all followers of Pashupata Shaivism.
2. The Lakula branch of Shaivism, also known as Lakulisha-Pashupata system, was founded by Lakulisha Acharya. Lakulisha is generally dated between 200 bce to 200 ce. It is believed that he was born and lived in
3. The Kapalika branch of Shaivism may also have its origins in the Veda. The Kapalikas are also called Soma-Siddhantins, as their practices are thought to be connected with the Soma ritual (Soma-yajna). Another interpretation says that they were called Soma-Siddhantins because they believed in worship of Shakti (Uma) with Shiva (Soma = sa (with) + Uma). The temple at Somanath in
4. The Shaiva branch Shaivism is the most well-known of all. This is why the larger name is Shaivism, and not Lakulism or Pashupatism. The Shaiva system is based on the Vedas and the Shaiva Agamas. Unlike the other branches, the Shaiva branch has not only ascetic following, but also has a large non-ascetic following. The four main sects of the Shaiva branch we have today are the Saiva Siddhanta (Southern or Tamil Shaivism), Shatsthala Siddhanta (Vira Shaivism), Trika Siddhanta (Kashmiri or Northern Shaivism), and Siddha Siddhanta (Gorakhnath Shaivism).
Originally, the Shaiva branch of Shaivism is said to have had five classes of Agamas:
1. Bhuta Agamas
2. Garuda Agamas
3. Vama Agamas
4. Dakshina Agamas
5. Siddhanta Agamas
Due to the nature of the content and practices, the Bhuta and Garuda Agamas were lost early on. Some believe that the Vama Agamas belonged to the Kaplika or Kalamukha branches, but none of these texts survive today. Of the surviving Agamas, we have lists of 92 (although not all are available in whole, or at all). The Shaiva branch, as a whole, therefore claims 92 Agama texts - 10 Shiva Agamas, 18 Rudra Agamas, and 64 Bhairava Agamas. The Shiva and Rudra Agamas together are called Siddhanta Agamas, and the Bhairava Agamas are called the Dakshina Agamas. The Shiva Agamas are said to teach dualism (bheda), the Rudra Agamas teach dualistic-monism (bhedabheda), and the Bhairava Agamas teach monism (abheda). The Bhairava Agamas are used, generally but not exclusively by Kashmiri Shaivism, whereas the Siddhanta Agamas form the basis of all the sects of the Shaiva branch.
According to Acharya Somananda, a prominent teacher of Kashmiri Shaivism, Shiva had appeared to Sage Durvasa in the form of Shrikantha in the beginning of the kaliyuga, and had imparted the knowledge of the Shaiva Agamas unto him. Shiva had revealed the philosophies of abheda, bhedabheda and abheda to Sage Durvasa so men of different capacities could understand the Divine each in their own ways. Sage Durvasa then proceeded to disseminate the knowledge through his three sons, Trayambaka, Amardaka and Shrinatha, who were taught the abheda, bhedabheda, and bheda philosphies respectively. The three sons of Durvasa then founded various monastic institutions (mathas), and promulgated the Shaiva teaching to their disciples. Presumably, the lines of Shaiva teachers (Shivacharyas) established by the three sons of Durvasa compiled the knowledge in form of the Shaiva Agamas.
Such is the story of the Tradition of Shiva in short.
6. S.C. Nandimath. Theology of the Saivagamas. 2001, ISDL Publishers, Thiruvananthapuram, India.
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