A major Śaiva ritual and theological tradition. Originating in Kashmir as the division of the mantramārga which regarded the ten Śiva- and eighteen Rudra-Āgamas as direct revelation from Śiva himself, Śaiva Siddhānta disappeared from its homeland in around the 12th century, only to re-emerge in South India. There, under royal patronage, it developed into a still extant, bhakti-infused, Tantric ritual tradition, sometimes referred to as ‘Tamil Śaiva Siddhānta’, or simply ‘Tamil Śaivism’. In the process, it created a canon, or canons which, in addition to the Āgamas (considered the highest authority), included the Veda, the bhakti poetry and hagiographies of the Nāyaṉmār contained in the Tirumuṟai anthology, and various theological treatises written between the late 12th and 14th centuries which combined the devotionalism of the Nāyaṉmār with the doctrine of the Āgamas. Similarly, all three—Āgama, Veda, and Tamil bhakti poetry—were incorporated into the temple liturgy at Cidambaram and other sites.
Śaiva Siddhānta doctrine, the essential underpinning for its complex ritual structure, presents reality as composed of three elements: Śiva (pati), bound souls (paśu), and bonds (pāśa); the first two are spiritual in nature, the last material. Śiva (Parameśvara), who is pure intelligence (cit), is the efficient, but not material cause of the world. Through his grace, activated in dīkṣa (‘consecration’), the individual soul (ātman), which is bound by impurities (mala), is transformed, and—either instantly (in the Kashmiri version) or gradually (in the Tamil version)—liberated from its bonds. On liberation, the soul realizes its true nature as pure intelligence, and enters the realm of Śiva where it is united with the Lord in omniscience, but remains distinct from him in terms of power.
Ritual for the Śaiva Siddhāntas is the means by which the soul approaches Śiva through the destruction of its bonds. To qualify himself to perform rituals, the individual has to receive at least the first of three levels of dīkṣa from an ācārya or guru; those officiating at public temple rituals have, in addition, to belong to the Ādiśaiva class of hereditary priests. Daily ritual, which is open to males of all four varṇa, is focused on a complex pūjā addressed to Sadāśiva. The devotee internally ‘builds’ the deity's body through the recitation of non- Vedic mantras (usually accompanied by mudrā), and then meditates on it. That is to say, he ‘rehearses’ the intended transformation, with the ultimate object of identifying with (i.e. becoming equal with) Śiva for the duration of the rite, prefiguring his eventual liberation.