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Trika Shaivism: A Brief Summary

Niranjan Bhombe

Madhavi Ojha

21 February 2023

"Throughout history Kashmir has been famous as one of the greatest centres of learning. It has a special role in....."

.....propagating Bharat’s Culture in the entire world. Sharda peeth, which today lies shattered in Neelam Valley, PoK, was once a major centre of learning.

Kashmir was a seat of Trika Shaivism and Rathakranta Tantra which extended from Vindhyas to Tibet. Kashmir’s native culture of Trika Shaivism, Rathakranta Tantra and Devi Sharda worship is dead and so is semblance of its native civilization. Civilization conflict started from 14th century & continues even today.

Nilmata Purana describes the origin of Kashmir from the Satisar Lake. The demon Jalodhbhava was blessed with immortality by Lord Brahma, as long as he was in the waters of the Satisar Lake. His demonic behavior towards the Nagas and the humans in the valley forced Sage Kashyapa and his son Nila to seek help from Lord Vishnu. The mighty God emptied the Satisar Lake and destroyed the demon with his Chakrayudha. With all the water drained from the valley, Sage Kashyap approached the three Devis — Parvathi, Lakshmi and Saraswathi — beseeching them to flow down from the heavens. Parvathi surged out as Vitastha (Jhelum), originating from the Verinag spring in the Pir Panjal range; Goddess Lakshmi cascaded as the Veshaw River and Mata Saraswathi flowed down as the Rumbiara River reviving the lifeless place. This lush valley came to be named as Kashmir (Kashyapa’s lake) after Sage Kashyapa.


What is this Trika Philosophy?

Trika is a Sanskrit word meaning "triple" or "threefold." The concept of Kashmir Shaivism is the trika science of Shiva, Shakti and Nara. Para, parapara and apara are the three energies of which the trifold system is composed. Para is the Hindu god, Shiva; parapara is the goddess, Shakti; and apara refers to Nara. According to Trika philosophy, Nara is a spiritual aspirant who seeks para through parapara. Trika Shaivism emphasizes that Shiva and the individual soul are the same.

The Trika tradition of Kashmir Shaivism puts Shiva at the centre of the matrix of Being and Becoming: there is only one Being, Shiva, who is the nature and existence of all beings, filled with prakasha, the infinite light of universal consciousness.



Tantras have been revealed by Lord Shiva through his five mouths: Ishana, Tatpurusha, Sadyojata, Vamadeva and Aghora, they represent the five energies: Chitshakti (consciousness), Anandashakti (Bliss), Icchashakti (will), Jnanashakti (knowledge) and Kriyashakti (action) respectively. When these energies of Lord Shiva unite with each other such way that each of these takes bold of the rest simultaneously, they reveal sixty-four Bhairvatantras which are purely monistic. These approach explained in Tantra is the Trika Philosophy.

Eventually these were lost and with the dawn of Kali age when darkness prevailed everywhere. Lord Shiva was roaming on the mount Kailasa. He was touched with pity for the suffering of people which resulted from ignorance. He instructed the sage Durvasa to revive the Agamic teachings and spread them amongst the people.

The sage durvasa divided the whole lore into three sections: Dvaita, Dvaidadvaita and Advaita. He then imparted their knowledge to his mind born sons: Srinatha, Amardaka and Trayambaka respectively. Thus came into existence the three tantric schools known after their propounders.


Schools of thought:

The Trika System is comprised of four sub-systems; the Spanda system, the Pratyabhijna system, the Kula system, and the Krama system. These four systems, which form the one thought of the Trika system, all accept and are based on the same scriptures (agamas).

The system of Kashmiri Shaivism is based upon Tantras spoken by Lord Shiva. These Tantras are divided into three classes- one class is that of the monistic tantras. They are called Bhairava Tantras; the second group of Tantras is founded on the mono-dualistic aspect of Kashmir Shaivism. These Tantras are called Rudra Tantras; the third class is based on dualistic Shaivism. These Tantras are called Shiva Tantras.

These scriptures form the ninety-two agamas of Shaivism. The monistic Bhairava Shastras are supreme (para) and are sixty-four in number; the mono-dualistic Rudra Shastras are medium (parapara) and are eighteen in number; and the dualistic Shiva Shastras are inferior (apara) and are ten in number.


-        Spanda System


“The Spanda School recognizes that nothing can exist without movement. Where there is movement there is life, and where there is no movement that is lifelessness.”


It comes from the root spand which means “to vibrate, throb, palpitate, etc.” So, Spanda may be accordingly translated as “vibration, throb, pulsation, etc.” This school is called so because all of its studies are based on “movement”, as it were. By movement, the Spanda School is not referring to physical or mental movement, but to the Supreme Movement known as Śakti (the Power of the Great Lord). Śakti is this constant Pulsation of Consciousness that keeps the entire universe alive and kicking.


-        Pratyabhijna System

“The moment recognition dawns, not only do you instantaneously become divine, but you also realize that you were already divine.”

The word pratyabhijna means “to spontaneously once again recognize and realize your Self.” Here you have only to realize, you do not have to practice. There are no upayas (means) in the Pratyabhijna system. You must simply recognize who you are. Wherever you are, whether you are at the level of Supreme Being, at the level of yoga, or at that level which is disgusting, you can recognize your own Nature then and there without moving anywhere or doing anything.


-        Kula System

“In the Kula system, there is no break in the realization of your own nature either in the highest or in the lowest cycle. This system, therefore, teaches you how you can live in totality.”

The Kula system teaches you how you can live in caitanya (universal Consciousness), the real nature of yourself, in the act of ascending and descending. While you rise from the lowest to the highest you realize your nature, and while you descend from the highest to the lowest you also realize your nature.

In fact, the word kula means “totality.”

In the practice of the Kula system, you have to realize the totality of the universe in one particle. Take one particle of anything that exists in this world; in that one particle is to be realized the totality of the whole universe. The totality of energy is found in one particle. Everything is full of one thing and one thing is full of all things.

The difference between the Pratyabhijna system and the Kula system is, that the Pratyabhijna system teaches you how to realize your own nature in one place and exist there, reside there. While the Kula system teaches you how you can rise from the lowest degree to the highest degree, and all the while, experience the nature of your Self on the same level and state. Shiva, which is realized in prithvi tattva (earth element), is the same level, the same reality of Shiva which is realized in Shiva tattva. Here, there is complete realization in every act of the world.



-        Krama System

“The Krama system is primarily attributed to shaktopaya and to the twelve Kalis.”

The word krama means “succession, sequence, series, etc.” This school is called so because it teaches that all the processes of perception go through 12 stages. The system mentions the names of 12 goddesses known as “Kālī-s”. Each of these Kālī-s is associated with one of the 12 stages of the perceptual process. The Kaula and Pratyabhijñā schools are beyond space and time, but the Krama School is not, because there is krama or succession of 12 goddesses or stages in one’s perception, all of which is displayed in space and time accordingly.

What everybody calls “Trika” now, i.e. Non-dual Shaivism of Kashmir, is the result of the formidable task accomplished by the greatest Master of Trika of all time: Abhinavagupta. Abhinavagupta is said to have lived for 50 years on this little planet (approximately from 975 to 1025 AD). Before him, Trika did not exist as such (as people know it now) but in the form of four schools of non-dual Shaivism that shared many common points but differed in some aspects. It was Abhinavagupta who managed to accomplish the titanic task of unifying those four schools through his writings (especially Tantrāloka). 


Who is Acharya Abhinavgupta?

Abhinavagupta was one of Bharat’s great literary critics and philosophers. He was a master of the Kula school of Shaivism, but wrote commentaries elucidating various texts and schools of thought. His ability to clarify the meaning of ancient texts through the application of reason and logic, and through his personal experience of religious practice, helped to popularize Kashmiri Shaivism.

His Tantra-Âloka (Light on the Tantras), which appears to have been written after Abhinavagupta had attained enlightenment, is one of the great accomplishments in Indian religious thought and influenced the understanding of the inner meaning of ritual in the Shaiva and Shakta schools for centuries afterward. Abhinavagupta also wrote on aesthetics, music and a variety of other subjects. His two famous commentaries on poetry, drama, and dance, the Locana on the Dhvanyaloka and the Abhinavabharati on the Natyasastra engage almost every important aspect of Bharatiya aesthetics.

Kashmir Shaivism teaches that monistic thought can be practised by anyone, man or woman, without the restriction of caste, creed or colour. Kashmir Shaivism, therefore, is a universal system, pure, real and substantial in every respect. Kashmir Shaivism is a philosophy positive and realistic in its approach to life. Rejecting negativism and escapism of every kind, it regards consciousness to be one and indivisible.

The Supreme unfolds itself with the help of its unlimited energy from which it is inseparable. This energy, which stirred in the first stirring, vibrates everywhere at every moment, "blooming in ranges of consciousness." Kashmir Shaivism, therefore, urges man not to give up the world but to see reality in its totality, recognizing his own true nature to be identical with that of the Divine. For it 'moksha' is nothing but an extension of one's own self to include the whole universe. The goal that it sets before man is attainment of 'sarva-svatantrya' or the absolute freedom of will and action. It is this vision of complete harmony in the relationship of man, universe and God that makes Kashmir Shaivism relevant in the present day world in which man, torn by inner and outer conflicts and is facing a civilizational crisis of the gravest magnitude, is groping for real peace. What Shaivism offers to him is an assurance of resolution of his unending dilemmas and confusion of mind.

In the concluding part of the article, I would like to state a verse from Abhinavagupta’s Paramarthasara:

“It is in me that this universe reveals itself, like vases and other objects in a spotless mirror. From me, everything arises, just as the many different dreams arise from sleep. It is I whose form is this universe, just as a body has hands, feet, and sense organs. It is I who shines in everything, like a light shining in different forms.”




1.    Swami Lakshmanjoo, Kashmir Shaivism: The Secret Supreme

2.    Abhinavagupta by G.T. Despande

Teachings of Guru Gabriel Pradipaka,

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