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An extinct, ascetic renouncer movement, considered to be the earliest Śaiva tradition for which evidence survives (in the Śāntiparvan of the Mahābhārata). Its only surviving text, the Pāśupata Sūtra, is attributed to Lākulīśa, although the extant version, with a commentary by Kauṇḍinya, probably dates from the 8th or 9th century ce. At its widest, the term embraces a number of related Śaiva traditions (including the Lākulas and Kālamukhas). More narrowly, it refers to one of two subdivisions of the Śaiva atimārga tradition (the other being its off-shoot, the Lākula). According to the Pāśupata Sūtra, membership was restricted to brahmin males who were permitted to renounce from any of the four conventional āśramas by entering into a ‘fifth’, the siddhāśrama (‘stage of the perfected’). Thereafter, the siddha moved through five levels of increasing detachment from Vedic society, off-loading onto the latter all his demeritorious karma en route. This ascension was marked by a progressively intense identification with Śiva in his wild and terrible form of Rudra, which culminated in the cremation ground, where, living off the offerings left for the dead, he hoped to achieve union with the god. At death, by Rudra's grace, the Pāśupata would expect to be filled with Rudra's qualities (i.e. omniscience and omnipotence), and so achieve union, although not absolute identity with him. The Pāśupatas, in the widest sense, appear to have exercised considerable ritual and political influence from c.7th–11th centuries ce, establishing temples throughout India.

Subjects: Religion

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