The word Hinduism is a common name which denotes many Indian religions, including Saivism. It is not a religion by itself. Saivism or Saiva religion is the dominant religion of the Hindu fold.

Saiva Siddhanta (Saiva Siththaantham in Tamil) is the philosophy of Saiva religion which considers Lord Siva as its primary deity. Siddhanta means the final conclusion (reached after taking into consideration all other important views). It is the popular philosophical system of the Tamils of South India, based on Saiva Agamas, Upanishds, ancient Tamil worksThirumurais and Meykanda Sastra works.

Who am I? Is there a God? What are the natures of God, Soul and the cosmos? What is my relationship with God and the worldly things? What is the reason for happenings in life over which one has no control? Such questions often arise in any philosophical system. Saiva Siddhanta gives plausible answers and explanations to them.

Eternal Entities

Saiva Siddhanta believes in the three eternal entities of God, Soul and Bondage (materials of bondage). These are called Pati, Pasu and Pasam respectively in Siddhanta philosophy. Pati means Lord (of the souls) who is God. Pasam means bondage. Pasu means that which is under bondage. All things known and perceived are included in these three categories.

According to Saiva Siddhanta God is one, Souls are many and Pasam consists of three impurities (malams) called Anava (anavam), Karma (kanmam) and Maya (mayai). Like Pati who is real and eternal, Pasu  and Pasam are also real and eternal.

Existence of God and other eternal entities is established by various epistemological means. Logical arguments, based on sense perception, inference and scripture are important means of proving their existence.

Anything that has a beginning, existence and decay is made by someone. It has a maker. Our physical body including the mental and psychological equipments, the world and the worldly things had a beginning. They exist for a certain period of time and then decay. They, therefore, have a maker who is God. Existence of God is thus established by inference. The existence of other entities is also established similarly by various means.


Siva (Sivam) is the name given to their God by the Saivites. Siva means One who is perfect and /or auspicious. His inherent nature is wisdom. He is with infinite love to benefit the souls. It is His Grace which is part of Him. Like the sun and its light, He remains inseparable with his Sakthy which is Grace. Sakthy literally means power or energy. He is omnipresent. The Tamil word for God, Kadavul, meaning One who resides outside and inside, indicates his omnipresence.


According to Saiva Siddhanta, Souls are many. No two persons or beings are alike. We may therefore, conclude that every living being has a soul of its own. Anma and uyir are other names for soul. Soul has the capabilities to know, act and desire. These are called its gnana sakthykriya sakthy and iccha sakthyrespectively. These capabilities are impaired by the associated entity called anava. Soul has a dependant nature and behaves like the one on which it depends. When it depends on the worldly things, it behaves like them. When it depends on God, it behaves like a divine being. This nature of dependency is called in Tamil as ‘Sarnthathan Vannamathal’.


Anavam is the cause of all negative qualities of the soul. It is the source of ego, ignorance, hatred, etc. Anavam is associated with the soul from beginning-less time. Like verdigris on copper, or the husk on paddy, it has a natural association with the soul. Obscuring soul’s power to know is the inherent nature of anavam. It is its special nature, called ‘sorupa lakshana’. In association with karma and maya, anavam misleads the soul to know mistakenly. This nature of anavam is called ‘thadastha lakshana’. Anavam’s actions on the soul are summarised under seven categories in Saiva Siddhanta. Anavam is spoken of only in Saiva Siddhanta and not in any other Indian philosophies.


Karma means action. Vinai is the Tamil word for it. Every action has its own result and every one has to experience the fruit of his action. This is the theory of karma. ‘Good and evil do not come to us from others’ is a phrase in an early Tamil work, Sangam literature. This is expressive of the Karmic theory. In philosophical language, both action and its result are called karma.

Many incidences in life escape reason for them. Cause of them is not known. Law of karma offers explanations to them. The results of one’s action or karma in a particular life come to experience in the same life or in another life, and get exhausted. Good actions results in good or pleasant experience and evil action result in bad or painful experience. Fruit of one’s karma is fed to the soul to come to experience by God, at a suitable time and surrounding decided by Him. 


Maya is the subtle entity which is the first cause of all material things. It is real, and not an illusion as in Vedanta philosophy. To perform any karma or action, material objects such as the physical body and worldly things are required. These are created by God from maya. This is akin to a potter making pots from the clay. The physical body is made from maya and given to the soul. Soul taking birth is obtaining the physical body. At death its body disintegrates to maya. Thus birth and death are mere transformation from one state to another, from maya to gross body and vice versa. According to Saiva Siddhanta, only that which is in existence comes out in another form. Nothing comes out from the void. This is an important concept in Saiva Siddhanta, called‘Satkariya Vatham’. ‘Sat’ means that which is real; ‘kariya’ means the product and ‘vatham’ means concept.

When the material things originate from maya, they first originate as evolutes of maya, called tatvas.(thaththuvangkal) Most of the Indian philosophical systems speak of twenty four tatvas. Saiva Siddhanta speaks of thirty six tatvas.

Although maya is a single entity, by nature of its actions, it is divided into two parts, as suddha (pure) mayaand asuddha (impure) maya. Out of the thirty six tatvas, five tatvas belong to suddha maya and they are called Siva tatvas. Sivasakthy, the divine power of Lord Siva acts directly on them. Thirty one tatvas belong to asuddha maya. Of these, seven tatvas are necessary to awaken the soul’s capabilities and to drive it to gain experience. These seven tatvas are called vidya tatvas. Other twenty four tatvas are necessary for the formation of physical body and its functions and experiences. They are called prakrti maya tatvas and are formed from moola prakrti which again is a product of asudha maya.

Prakriti means nature, and is in the form of guna (gunam). Guna is of three kinds, sathvarajas andthamas. Our experiences of happiness, pain, confusion etc., are in the form of varying combination of these three guns. The twenty four tatvas of prakrti are also of this form.

The soul is under bondage of the triple malams (impurities) of anava, karma and maya. When this bondage is broken, it gets liberation or mukthy.

Evolution of the Soul

Before taking any birth, the soul was in a state, enmeshed in the darkness of anavam, unable to exhibit its capabilities to know, act and desire. This state of the soul is called ‘kevalam’. Lord Siva, out of His immense love to help the soul, provided it with a subtle body formed with eight tatvas of maya. This subtle body is called ‘puriyatakatyam’. With this body, the soul, for the first time showed some movement. This movement became the first karma of the soul and it had its own result. For the result of this karma to come to experience God Siva provides a suitable gross body created from maya. This is a new birth for the soul, in the world.

On taking birth, the soul acts or performs new karma, and the result of the past karma comes to experience through it and get exhausted. But its action gives rise to another karma which again has to come to experience and get exhausted. For this to happen, it has to take another birth. Thus karma and birth follow one after another, till the soul gets liberation. The state of the soul with the body on earth is called ‘sakalam’.

In every birth, the soul, through its action, gains experience, and through experience gains knowledge. As it gains knowledge, the grip of anava, which is the source of its ignorance, gradually gets loosened, and it evolves towards liberation. In its path of spiritual evolution, it passes through various stages, calledMalaparipakam, Iruvinai oppu and Saththinipatham. These are states where anava malam gets ripened to be removed, mental equipoise to consider pain and pleasure as same is developed and Grace of Siva descends. 

Manifestatios of Lord Siva

God Siva in His inherent form is formless. To bestow grace to the souls He manifests in various forms. His manifested forms are grouped into three categories. They are arupa(aruvam) form (without a body), rupa(uruvam)form (with body) and rupa-arupa (aruvuruvam) form (with and without body). The image of Siva Linga (Sivalingam) is symbolic of the last category, which is the intermediate stage between the other two. Other manifested images of Siva are symbolic of the second category. The images of Ambikai, Nadarajah, Dakshnmoorthy, Ganapathy, Murugan etc., belong to this category.

Saivism does not encourage worship of minor deities and those alien to it. If any benefit is derived by worshipping them, it is only temporary and of a psychological change. Often such worship becomes a hindrance to spiritual progress.

The image of Sivalingam is often misinterpreted by many. Lord Siva, when taking various manifested forms, acts first on Natham which is the first Siva tatva. This tatva is denoted by a vertical line. Then He acts on the second tatva called Vindu, which is denoted by a dot. Then he acts on the third tatva called Sathakkiyam. It is here He takes the manifested form called Sivalingam. The vertical upper portion of Sivalingam is, therefore, indicative of natham and the bottom circular portion is indicative of vindhu. The image of Sivalingam is symbolic of Siva’s arupa rupa form. It is actually without any definite form and in an amorphous state. 

The image of Nadarajah or Dancing Siva is expressive of the highly evolved arts and culture of the ancient Tamils. It depicts the five fold activity of Lord Siva, and the Siva–Sakthy concept involving the fusion of His static and dynamic states.

The image of Dakshnamoorthy is seen holding the palm with the forefinger bending towards the thumb. This posture is called Cinmutra. The thumb denotes Lord Siva and the forefinger the soul. Other three fingers denote the triple malams of anava, karma and mays. This cinmutra posture indicates that the soul should strive to get detached from the three malams, and lean on Siva’s Grace. Other images also have such significance and explanations.

Saiva Practices

For spiritual progress and to earn Siva’s Grace, Saivism encourages everyone to develop good qualities such a love to all beings. Lord Siva is seen as a personification of wisdom and love. He is the perfection of all good qualities. Hence every Saivite who worship Siva must develop such noble qualities and serve all living beings.

Saivism shows certain prescribed practices to grow spiritually. These practices are called Sariya, Kiriya, Yoga and Gnana. Sariya is doing service to devotees and in temples. This is the first stage which will turn the aspirant toward spiritual progress. Worshipping lord Siva with body and mind is Kiriya. Meditating on Siva without allowing the mind to stray outwards and getting united mentally with Him is Yoga. Understanding the books of wisdom, which explains clearly the triple entities of pathi, pasu and pasam and staying in the Grace of Siva is Gnanam.

Like God, Guru or spiritual teacher also gains importance in Saivism. Proper Guru gives the necessary guidance and prepares the aspirant to receive the Grace of Siva. Siva Himself acts through him, and hence he is also considered as God by his disciple. Guru is such a spiritually highly evolved person hearing his words, and even seeing him would illuminate the disciple.

Sacred symbols like Viboothy or Thiruneeru (sacred ash), Thiuvainthezhuththu or Panchadsara mantra (sacred syllables) and Rudraksham are of utmost importance in Saiva practice.  

Rational Philosophy

Saiva Siddhanta is a rational philosophy. The concept of ‘Satkariya vatham’ is similar to the scientific concept that matter and energy get transformed from one form to another.
The universe, according to the Big Bang theory in science, had an origin from a ‘cosmic egg’ and expanded to the present state. Even time was born from it. The Siddhanta concept of maya and its products has a close parallel with this scientific view.

Referring to the universe, the 20th century Scientist Albert Einstein said, “It is an expanding Universe”. The Saiva saint Manickavasakar made the same statement more than about 12 century ago. Even the verbal usage, ‘virinthana’ (expanding) in his statement appears to be the same.

The Siva- Sakthy concept where the static and dynamic aspects are attributed to the one and the same Being is akin to the 20th century scientific discovery regarding the duel aspect of atomic particles. These particles were found to exhibit the characteristics of particle and wave at one and the same time. Many such examples can be shown to draw parallels between Siddhanta concepts and scientific views.

Other Systems

Few comparisons of the views of few other philosophical systems may be useful.

1. Vedanta is a dominant Indian philosophical system. There are three influential Vedanta schools. They areAdvaita Vedanta of Sankara, Visishdatvaita Vedanta of Ramanujar, and Dvaita Vedanta of Madvar. Generally, Vedanta, in modern days, refers to Sankarar’s Vedanta. According to this system, and even Visishdatvaita, God or Brahmam  is the only reality. Soul is one and it broke away from Brahmam. Maya caused this breaking away. (Maya in Vedanta is different from that in Sidhanta). The world is an illusion and a reflection of Brahmam. The soul takes various forms in various bodies, and joins Brahmam when it gains Gnanam or divine bliss.

What is the necessity for the soul to break away from God? If maya is the cause of it, is not maya more powerful than God? If the soul is part of Brahmam, then every man should have the divine qualities. Is he having it? Even if the soul unites with the God at the end, what is the guarantee that it will not break away again? Such questions do not get satisfactory answers. Saiva Siddhanta, therefore, does not accept such vedantic views. 

2. Budhist and Jain philosophies adopt sense perception and inference to establish their views. Saiva Siddhnta considers scriptural authority, in addition to them.
They do not believe in the existence of God. But Budha and Aruga are worshipped as Gods. Saiva Siddhanta believes in One God who is Siva. Their concepts regarding soul and liberation are entirely different from those in Siddhanta.

Both philosophies believe in karmic theory, but they hold the view that God is not required to make the karma reach the doer. According to Saiva Siddhnta, Karma is an unintelligent entity and requires a higher power, God, to enable it to reach the doer.

3. The views of Christianity defer from Old Testament to New Testament and from Catholicism to Protestantism. According to popular Christianity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost are Gods. By birth Man is the highest living being. He is born to know and love God. All other living beings come under his control and are created for his pleasure. Souls have only one birth. By his action man attains eternal hell or eternal heaven. Evil of man is due to the original sin committed by his ancestor Adam.

 Saiva Siddhanta believes in many births and spiritual evolution from birth to birth. By the Grace of Lord Siva every soul attains liberation and eternal bliss at the end. Heaven and hell are only temporary stages in the soul’s evolution. It does not belief in the transmission of evil originated by some one of the distant past, to those at present and in future.

4. According to Islam, God is formless and not born with a physical body. He is with love and grace and knows everything. He is eternal and is capable of creating and destroying. It is a sin to worship His creations as divine beings. These views appear to have similarities with those of Saiva Siddhanta.

Soul, according to Islam, is created by God and does not take another birth This view is contrary to Saiva view.

Philosophy of the Tamils

Saiva Siddhanta philosophy is based mainly on the Saiva Agamas. Vedas are considered to be of general nature and Agamas of special nature to Saivism. Saiva Siddhanta developed as a plausible philosophy in the Tamil land and is considered as the philosophy of the Tamils.

Authoritative texts in Saiva Sidhanta are the fourteen Meykanda Sastra books in Tamil. One of these isSivagnanbodham which is the primary text in Saiva Siddhanta. The authors of these books are divine inspired saints. 

For a long time it was believed that Saiva religion, like other Indian religions, had its origin with the Vedas. The Mohenjadaro – Harappa excavations of the last century proved that Saivism and Siva worship existed before the Vedic period. Following words of Sir John Marshall testifies to this:

Among the many revelations that Mohenjadaro and Harappa have in store for  us,  none perhaps is more remarkable than this discovery that Saivism has a history  going back to the chalcolithic age’ – John Marshal