The group is said to have been founded by Shiva himself, who shared His teachings to some maharishis. Around year 200 A.D., in what is known today as the Indian state Gujarat, where he made His appearance the most prominent pashupata sadguru, namely Lakulisha.
According to the Karavana Mahatmya, he was born into a family of brahmins, but he died in his seventh month of life, after demonstrating remarkable supernatural powers.
His mother threw the little body into a river – a traditional form of funeral for babies in India, but a group of turtles carried the body to a temple of Shiva.
Here the baby came back to life and grew as a hermit. According to another source, Lakulisha was a person who died and whom Shiva brought back to life.
Shiva apparently took over his body in order to preach Pashupata Dharma to the world. The place where this man appeared, a town known today as Kayavahardhana (“being incarnated in someone elses body”) is the place of fiestas on this occasion even to this day.
In this town there are two stones on which there are inscriptions with the names of four of the most important disciples of this sadguru: Kushika, Gargya, Maitreya and Kaurusha.
The Lakulisha Sadguru was a dynamic pashupata reformer. In his sutras, Lakulisha restrained the acceptance of practitioners to the three superior castes, by defining the brave codes of conduct and the yoga precepts: vaishya, kshatriya and brahmini, in an attempt of connecting this school to the Vedic orthodoxy.
Thus, it was developed as a popular and familiar path, which came out from this exclusive ascetic order. During our time, there are a lot of pashupata worship centers spread over India, centers in which the sadguru Lakulisha is worshiped and often represented as Shiva.
His image is placed in front of a shivalinga, and he sits nude and full of energy in the lotus pose, holing in his left hand a danda (a can) and in his right hand a lemon fruit.
The most important pashupata temple Somanatha lies in Gujarat and is a strong and active place of worship, which has gone through several cycles of destruction and reconstruction.
A Chinese traveler from the VII-th century, Huan Jiang, wrote that during those times 10.000 pashupata-s occupied the city of Varanasi. The pashupata tradition spread into Nepal in the VIII-th century, where the famous Pashupatinath temple became a prime center of pilgrimage and remained so even to these days.
In its medieval zenith, the pashupatism covered the west, northwest and southeast parts of India, receiving royal patronage. In the XV-th century, it restrained to its powerful centers from Gujarat, Nepal and the Himalayan heights.
Traditionally speaking, the deepest pashupata teachings were kept secret, and they were reserved only for the initiates who were tried, tested and found suitable.
The central scriptures are Pashupata Sutra (attributed to the venerable Lakulisha), Kaundinyas commentaries on them, Pancartha Bhashya and Mrigendra Agama. The pashupata philosophy was dualist until Lakulisha. We know very little of it, because very few writings survived to our days.
However, researchers have distinguished from references of other ancient scholars who worked on these texts that this philosophy conceived Shiva as the effective cause of the universe, and not its material cause as well.
This philosophy had 5 primary categories: cause, effect, union, ritual, and liberation. The last category was somewhat unusual, as the pashupatas who lived before Lakulisha believed that the soul is never united with Shiva and that spiritual freedom is a state in which there are no longer grief, pain, needs, etc.
They believed that Shiva can create changes in the world and in individual destinies, according to His own will and pleasure, however without altering the person or his or her karma .
The Pashupata of Lakulisha preserved the idea of the 5 categories, but considered the final purpose of the individual soul as being the attainment of the divine state.
Later on, he specified that God (Shiva) is also the material cause of the universe, transforming effectively a dualist philosophy into a non-dualist one.
The individual soul, pashu, is kept away from Shiva by pasa (strings). The soul preserves its individuality in the liberated state sayujya, defined as closeness, but not complete union with Shiva, who, in Lakulishas vision has no power over liberated souls.
The Kapalika-s, “bearers of skulls” is a group that originated in the pashupata movement. The “opponents” of the Kapalika-s rightfully slandered them in certain cases.
What is worse, they were described as wandering about drunk, conceited, engaging in human sacrifices and practicing black magic.
Other depictions are good. For instance in the Sanskrit drama of the first centuries, Malati Madhava, a kapalika says with impressive depth: “to be exclusively devoted to charity, penitence and rites is easy. A very difficult thing is to be centered in the Self, under any circumstances.”
Even today, the followers of this movement are found begging for food, which they accept in a human skull, preferably the skull of a brahmin. Several researchers in this field noted a connection of the kapalika-s and the Gorakshanatha yogis from later on.
In the VII-th century, another group developed from the pashupata tradition, namely the kalamukha-s (dark women), who established a well-organized social structure, with a lot of temples and monasteries, in the area known today as the Karnataka region and its surroundings.
As their pashupata neighbors, they suffered the blame of various historians. Nothing remained of their scriptures, therefore the details regarding their lives and philosophy are still obscure.
Nonetheless, the esteem their contemporaries had for them is reflected in an inscription dated 1162, in one of their temples.
This inscription says that the temple was a “place destined to the celebration of the Shaivit saints who lead a perpetual life of celibacy and sanctity, a place for the tranquil study of the four Veda -s, Yoga Shastra and other spiritual teachings, a place where the poor, the helpless, the bards and the musicians whose duty was to awaken their masters with their music and songs could receive food. A place destined to all beggars, where many ill or helpless people were cared for and sheltered, a place where all living creatures were protected.”
Researchers believe that the Vira Shaiva school originated or replaced the kalamukha group, apparently taking over their temples and ashrams. Even today, retired pashupata monks live in northern India and Nepal, influencing their adepts from all over the world.
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