Doctrines Shaivas are devotees of the Hindu god Shiva. While Shaivism contains within it a number of traditions and theologies, Shaivas will regard Shiva as the transcendent Lord who creates the cosmos, maintains it and destroys it over and over again. He also conceals himself through his magical power (maya) and reveals himself through grace. Most Shaivas believe in the standard Hindu doctrine that the soul travels through many lifetimes in the cycle of reincarnation (samsara) and that the kind of rebirth the soul experiences is determined by its action (karma). The ultimate goal of life is salvation or liberation (moksha) from the cycle of reincarnation attained by a degree of effort but ultimately through Shiva's grace.
While there has been a sophisticated Shaiva monism, advocated particularly by Kashmir Shaivism which maintains that the individual soul and the cosmos are ultimately identical with Shiva, most Shaivas, particularly Shaiva Siddhanta, maintain a doctrine that Shiva, souls and the cosmos are distinct substances. Shaivas tend to emphasise yoga, asceticism, renunciation and initiation by a qualified teacher or guru as ways of attaining liberation.

History The worship of Shiva is very ancient in India. Hymns to Rudra, a name of Shiva, are found in the Veda, the earliest Hindu scriptures regarded as revelation (c.1500 BCE), though worship of Shiva may have its origins in the Indus valley civilisation (c.2000 BCE). The theistic Upanishad, the Shvetashvatara (5th/4th cent. BCE), identifies Shiva with the supreme Lord, though worship of Shiva does not fully develop until the epic and puranic periods with the rise of devotionalism (bhakti) to different deities, particularly during the reign of the Gupta dynasty (c.320CE-c.500CE) when the Puranas (texts of mythology and ritual) begin to be composed.
From about the ninth century, the brahmanical or high caste Shaivas of the Puranas can be contrasted with Shaivas who revered a distinct revelation, the Tantras. While orthoprax Shaivas revered the Veda as revelation and adhered to the norms of brahmanical Hindu culture, some of the Shaivas who revered the Tantras went against orthoprax purity laws in offering alcohol and erotic offerings to the ferocious deities of their pantheon.
The Pashupata sect and the more extreme Kapalikas (whose contemporary manifestation is the Aghori sect) sought liberation through ritual and yoga, smearing themselves with ashes and imitating Shiva in his wild, ascetic aspect. Kashmir Shaivism adapted some of these practices and ideas to the householder's lifestyle, while the Shaiva Siddhanta is much closer to brahmanical orthopraxy. Shaiva Siddhanta originated in Kashmir (9th-11th century) but developed in south India, in Tamilnadu, where it was strongly influenced by the devotionalism of the poet-saints, the Nayanmars (7th-9th cent.). The Lingayats are a Shaiva sect who developed from the 11th century in Karnataka. The Shaiva Siddhanta and the Lingayats are the most important Shaiva traditions today.

Symbols Shaiva temples will contain an image of Shiva or the aniconic, phallic form of Shiva, the linga. Most Hindu temples will have a shrine with a Shiva linga. For the purposes of worship Shaivas will smear three horizontal lines across their foreheads and Shaiva ascetics will be walking symbols of Shiva, covered in ashes, with matted hair, adorned with sacred rudraksha beads and sometimes bearing a trident.

Adherents There are no figures and it is not possible to assess the number of Shaivas among the seven hundred million Hindus in India.

Main Centre
 Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges is the city particularly sacred to Shiva where there is the famous Vishvanath temple. In the south there are a number of important centres, particularly Cidambaram.