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What is Shaivism?

Question: "What is Shaivism?"

One of the more well-known interpretations of Hinduism is Shaivism, a sect that considers the deity Shiva to be supreme. Hinduism is generally polytheistic, believing in a large number of gods and goddesses. The focus on a single deity is sometimes incorrectly referred to as monotheism in instances such as Shaivism. In fact, Shaivism is a form of monolatry or henotheism, since it worships a single deity while simultaneously believing that more than one deity exists.

Shaivism is distinguished from other Hindu sects, in no small part, for its perspective on animals and violence. The concept of ahisma, or pacifism, is considered a moral obligation in most Hindu denominations. This usually includes a prohibition on eating meat or killing animals. Shaivism, on the other hand, does not emphasize ahisma as much as other groups and, in fact, uses animal sacrifices as part of its worship.

Shaivism is also distinguished from more popular sects such as Vaishnavism for placing much less emphasis on the concept of avatars—physical incarnations of the supreme deity. Shaivism focuses attention on the god Shiva—sometimes spelled Siva—who is the Hindu god of performing arts and dance. It is no surprise, then, that Shaivism has been a major player in the development of Hindu dance, music, and practices such as yoga.

Shaivists are also known for wearing a symbol comprised of three horizontal lines and a red circle across their foreheads. Scholars suggest that Shaivism is the oldest of the various Hindu sub-groups, though it also seems to overlap more readily with Buddhism than do other Hindu denominations.

Ultimately, Shaivism can be assessed using the same general points as Hinduism. Concepts such as karma, reincarnation, and so forth cannot be supported by reason and evidence. As compared to the Bible, Hindu scriptures are self-contradictory, a point that Hindu scholars will readily admit. From a spiritual standpoint, Shaivism may be a unique interpretation of Hinduism, but it is no less false than any other Hindu denomination.

Recommended Resource: Encountering World Religions by Irving Hexham

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