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Pashupata Shaivism (Pāśupata, Sanskrit: पाशुपत) is the oldest of the major Shaivite Hindu schools. The philosophy of the Pashupata sect was systematized by Lakulīśa also called Nakulīśa) in the 2nd century A.D. The main texts of the school are Pāśupatasūtra with Kauṇḍinya's Pañcārthabhāṣya, and Gaṇakārikā with Bhāsarvajña's Ratnaṭīkā. Both texts were discovered only in the twentieth century. Prior to that, the major source of information on this sect was a chapter devoted to it in Vidyāraṇya's Sarvadarśanasaṅgraha.
The date of foundation of the school is uncertain. However, the Pashupatas may have existed from the 1st century CE. Gavin Flood dates them to around the 2nd century CE. They are also referred to in the epic Mahabharata which is thought to have reached a final form by 4th century CE. The Pashupata movement was influential in South India in the period between the 7th and 14th century, but it no longer exists.
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Pashupata Shaivism was a devotional (bhakti) and ascetic movement. Pashu in Pashupati refers to the effect (or created world), the word designates that which is dependent on something ulterior. Whereas, Pati means the cause (or principium), the word designates the Lord, who is the cause of the universe, the pati, or the ruler. To free themselves from worldy fetters Pashupatas are instructed to do a pashupata vrata. Atharvasiras Upanishsad describes the pashupata vrata as that which consists of besmearing one's own body with ashes and at the same time muttering mantra — "Agni is ashes, Vayu is ashes, Sky is ashes, all this is ashes, the mind, these eyes are ashes."
Haradattacharya, in Gaṇakārikā, explains that a spiritual teacher is one who knows the eight pentads and the three functions. The eight pentads of Acquisition (result of expedience), Impurity (evil in soul), Expedient (means of purification), Locality (aids to increase knowledge), Perseverance (endurance in pentads), Purification (putting away impurities), Initiation and Powers are —
|Acquisition||knowledge||penance||permanence of the body||constancy||purity|
|Expedient||use of habitation||pious muttering||meditation||constant recollection of Rudra||apprehension|
|Locality||spiritual teachers||a cavern||a special place||the burning ground||Rudra|
|Perseverance||the differenced||the undifferenced||muttering||acceptance||devotion|
|Purification||loss of ignorance||loss of demerit||loss of attachment||loss of interestedness||loss of falling|
|Initiations||the material||proper time||the rite||the image||the spiritual guide|
|Powers||devotion to the spiritual guide||clearness of intellect||conquest of pleasure and pain||merit||carefulness|
The three functions correspond to the means of earning daily food — mendicancy, living upon alms, and living upon what chance supplies.
Pashupatas disapprove of the Vaishnava theology, known for its doctrine servitude of souls to the Supreme Being, on the grounds that dependence upon anything cannot be the means of cessation of pain and other desired ends. They recognize that those depending upon another and longing for independence will not be emancipated because they still depend upon something other than themselves. According to Pashupatas, spirits possess the attributes of the Supreme Deity when they become liberated from the 'germ of every pain'. In this system the cessation of pain is of two kinds, impersonal and personal. Impersonal consists of the absolute cessation of all pains, whereas the personal consists of development of visual and active powers like swiftness of thought, assuming forms at will etc. The Lord is held to be the possessor of infinite, visual, and active powers.
Pañchārtha bhāshyadipikā divides the created world into the insentient and the sentient. The insentient is unconscious and thus dependent on the conscious. The insentient is further divided into effects and causes. The effects are of ten kinds, the earth, four elements and their qualities, colour etc. . The causes are of thirteen kinds, the five organs of cognition, the five organs of action, the three internal organs, intellect, the ego principle and the cognising principle. These insentient causes are held responsible for the illusive identification of Self with non-Self. The sentient spirit, which is subject to transmigration is of two kinds, the appetent and nonappetent. The appetent is the spirit associated with an organism and sense organs, whereas the non-appetent is the spirit without them.
Union in the Pashupata system is a conjunction of the soul with God through the intellect. It is achieved in two ways, action and cessation of action. Union through action consists of pious muttering, meditation etc. and union through cessation of action occurs through consciousness.
Rituals and spiritual practices were done to acquire merit or puṇya. They were divided into primary and secondary rituals, where primary rituals were the direct means of acquiring merit. Primary rituals included acts of piety and various postures. The acts of piety were bathing thrice a day, lying upon sand and worship with oblations of laughter, song, dance, sacred muttering etc. Postures involved absurd actions such as, snoring or showing signs of being asleep while awake, limping, wooing or gestures of an inamorato on seeing a young and pretty woman, talking nonsensically etc. Secondary rituals involved bearing marks of purity after bathing.
Lakulisa is credited with authorship of the Pancharthavidya, in which devotees are instructed to "bathe thrice a day" and "lie on the dust or ashes". This "Pasupata Vow" is also described in the Atharvasiras Upanishad.
The Pasupatas worshiped Lord Shiva as God Almighty. They would bathe their body three times a day in sand, lie in ashes, sing bhajans of Shiva.
Laughing was also an important Pasupata practice, as was physically shaking and meditation.
According to Govind Chandra Pande, there are given major principles which the Pasupata members adhere to:
The Pasupatas are known to have had sects within the Pasupata sect. For example, the Lakulins are said to be a sub-sect. The Tripurantaka sect are also said to be the same. Their scripture is the Cintra prashasti. They were found in Gujarat up to the Chalukya era. The Lalikesa Sasana were another sect.
It is said that "Lakulisa" became the name of the Pasupata sects at least after the 11th century CE. The Lakulin sect is also known by the names "Lakulasamaya", "Lakula", "Lanjana", "Laguda", "Langala", "Nakula", "Vakula."
Temples with the carvings of Lakulisa are found in western regions of India as that is where it originated although it is also found in the east as far as Orissa, south to Tamil Nadu and north to Kashmir.
The practice of course began in western India and so spread amongst areas of the west. many images of Lakula have been found in areas such as Rajasthan. Fergusson assigned temples from Rajasthan down to Andhra as belonging to the Pasupatas. The region around Mt. Abu was the principal place of Pasuapta activities. MadhyaPradesh too has a treasure of images of Lakula found from places like Mandsaur, Ujjain, etc.
Along with other forms of Shiva, there is a painting of Lakulisa in an Ellora cave of Maharashtra.
"The form of Saivism in Kashmir during the early period was of the Pasupata sect. According to a tradition recorded in the Mahabharata, the doctrine of Pasupata was first preached by Siva Srikantha. Siva Srikantha was regarded in the Valley to as the promulgator or Sivagama or Agamanta Saivism which included the system of the Pasupata."
In Tamil Nadu, it is known to have existed in the modern-day district of Tiruvottiyur, and in Kashmir in Payar, where there are Lakulisa figures found. In Tamil Nadu, it also existed in Tanjore and Nagapattnam.
According to the findings of the Archaeological Survey of India, Bijjaladeva of the Chalukyan Empire of Southern India and parts of Northern India, donated a gift in the service to God. The gift was made after washing the feet of Divyasakti-Panditadeva, a Lakulin.
As the Hinduism Today article reports:
It is believed by some scholars that they may have been absorbed into other sects such as the Kanpatha Yoga.
To King Ishttanga's rule (915-930 CE) is attributed the building of a Pasupata temple.
There is a Nakuleshvara Temple complex in Kalighata, West Bengal.
It has been theorized by a few scholars such as Dale Hoiberg and Indu Ramchandani state that the sect existed in Cambodia and Java, Indonesia.
The Pasupata beliefs are summarized in the Pasaputa Sutra. This text was rediscovered in 1930 and is attributed to Lakulisa himself. Bhanmdarkar attributes the Atharva-Sirasto the Pasupatas. Also, in the text, their vow is recorded.
The Mahabharata claimed that he was a son of Lord Brahma and taught people the Pasupata system. In the Mahabharata, Srikantha (or Lakulisa) claims that the Pasupata system is a son of Lord Brahma when a form of Shiva emerged from Lord Brahma's eyebrow (MBh (B), 12, 349-67) 
The Sarva-Darsana-Samgraha of the Advaitin saint Madhavacarya wrote in the text, the philosophical system of Lakulin. Kaundinya's or Rashikara's Pancharta Bhasya discusses this sect. The Gana-karika of Bhasarvajna too discusses this school in detail. The Pasupata system is mentioned in the Vayuviha Samhita.