Shaivism

Tutor: Dr Nicholas Sutton
Start date: 19 July
Enrolments close Sunday 9 August

£145

In this course we look at the position of Śiva and his followers in Hinduism. Almost all Hindus show reverence for Śiva. However, there is one strand of Hinduism that sees Śiva as the Supreme Deity. Who is Śiva? Who are his worshippers? What is the history of Śaivism? And what are the fundamental texts and practices of this tradition?

COURSE DETAILS

About this course

In this course we look at the position of Śiva and his followers in Hinduism. Almost all Hindus show reverence for Śiva. However, there is one strand of Hinduism that sees Śiva as the Supreme Deity. Who is Śiva? Who are his worshippers? What is the history of Śaivism? And what are the fundamental texts and practices of this tradition?

Session One: The Vedic Deity

We begin with the representation of Rudra (Śiva) in the hymns of the Vedas. We will see the the dual identity of Rudra as both destructive and benign. This helps identify the divine with the human experience of the natural world. We pay particular attention to the ŚataRudriya prayers of the Yajur-veda.

Session Two: The Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad

We continue our consideration of Vedic texts with a careful analysis of the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad. This text is unique amongst the major Upaniṣads because it elevates Śiva to the position of the Supreme Deity who creates and controls the entire world.

Session Three: Śiva in the Mahābhārata

We now move on to consider Śiva as represented in the Mahābhārata. Although the Mahābhārata is generally regarded as having a Vaiṣṇava orientation, Śiva also plays a significant role. The thirteenth book of the Mahābhārata contains important passages dedicated to Śiva as the Supreme Deity who is worshipped by Kṛṣṇa.

Session Four: Śiva in the Purāṇas

We consider another early Sanskrit work, the Śiva Purāṇa. This text offers a detailed insight into the sacred lore of Śaivism and establishes the iconography of Śiva found in countless carvings, paintings, and posters. Within the Śaivite traditions we find many stories of the acts of Śiva as the creator, protector, and destroyer of the world. We also learn of his marriage to Pārvatī and the birth of their two sons, Skanda and Gaṇeśa.

Session Five: Āgamas, Pāśupatas, Kālāmukhas, and Kāpālikas

We begin our study of Śaivism as it has developed into its present form. We start with a discussion of the Śaiva Āgamas. These are the most authoritative works for contemporary Śaivites, who regard them  as above even the Vedas. This leads us to the Śaivite ascetics who are still a common sight in India today. Our study of Śaivite asceticism will focus on the Pāśupatas, the Kālāmukhas, and the Kāpālikas: the Kāpālikas being notable for their transgressive practices and their position outside of more conventional Hindu belief and practice.

Session Six: The Poetry of the Nayanars

We turn our attention to the Śaiva Siddhānta tradition that has its main centres in Tamil Nadu. We start by focusing on the prayers of the Nayanars and the accounts of their lives as narrated in the Periya Purāṇa. The Nayanars are notable for their intense devotion to Śiva displayed in their poetic writings. Special attention is given to the hymns of Appar, Sambandhar, Sundaramurti, and Manikkavachakar. As the Nayanars frequently refer to their wanderings from one shrine to another, we will also take the opportunity to consider worship in the temples dedicated to Śiva.

Session Seven: The Śaiva Siddhānta

Staying with Tamil Śaivism, we move on to the teachings of the theologians of the the tradition, the Śaiva Siddhānta ācāryas. We pay particular attention to Meykandar’s Śivajñānabodham and the writings of Umāpati. We begin with a brief look at Śrīkaṇṭha’s commentary on the Brahma Sūtras and Tirumular’s advaitic contribution to the Śaiva Siddhānta. This leads us to the writings of later ācāryas whose work is closely related to the devotional outpourings of the Nayanars.

Session Eight: The Vīraśaivas of Karnataka

For our eighth session, we move west, from Tamil Nadu to Karnataka. We consider the beliefs and practices of the Vīraśaiva sect, a prominent Hindu tradition in that region. We examine their origins and the social reforms introduced by Basavanna. Then we examine the vachanas composed by Basavanna, Allama Prabhu, Mahādevī Ākkā and others, which express their beliefs about a range of social and spiritual issues. We also discuss the present-day rituals of the Vīraśaivas.

Session Nine: Kashmir Śaivism

We conclude with a discussion of the ideas revealed by the teachers of Kashmir Śaivism, particularly Vasugupta, Abhinavagupta, and Kṣemarāja. The best known expression of advaitic (non-dual) philosophy is certainly the Advaita Vedānta of Śaṅkarācārya, but Kashmir Śaivism give us an alternative form of advaita that stands in contrast to Śaṅkara’s teachings. In this session we will also consider the history of Kashmir Śaivism and its position in the modern world.

HOW IT WORKS

Course delivery is 100% online

7–9 weekly sessions

Study in your own time

Your tutor is available by email and forums

Communicate online with your fellow students

All course materials are delivered via the web

Student forums with tutor participation

Recorded lectures available in video and mp3 format

All required lecture notes included

Audio interviews with specialists in Hindu Studies

Supplementary materials taken from the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies teaching and research programme

Assessment is optional and is on the basis of successful completion of a single essay of 2000 words, with the exception of our Sanskrit courses which are assessed on weekly course work.

Courses can be completed in as little as seven weeks. There is a final deadline for essays or course work of twelve weeks from the beginning of the course.

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