Shaivism in North East India


North East India is one of the most diverse regions of India and the World. There are five states, two union territories, and more than 200 languages and dialects spread over. Foundation of various cults in this region was laid down by this Austric, Alpine-Aryan and Tibeto Bumies elements migrated from east, west and north.

The Brahmaputra valley is more like Ganges valley; people are Assamee speaking migrated initially from various parts of the India, and later Tibeto- Burma.  Vedic Hinduism­­ is main religion of them.

There is no clear distinction between Saivism, Saktism and Vaisnavism among Hindus unlike other religions of the world.  We still find temples and devotees dedicated to one or other sects predominantly. Shaivism or Shiva worship may be the oldest sects existed before other two in Assam.

Prehistoric Shaivism (2000BCE – 600BCE)

The cult of fertility or the worship of Linga and Yoni personified as Siva and Devi which forms the basis of Saktism and Tantrism is found in the Megalitis of Assam. The cult is to be associated with the pre Aryan element; the word ling has been attributed to an Austeric origin.

Kalika Puran predominantly a Shakt Uppuran is accepted to be a product of Kamrup during 10th and 11th century AD. Contribution of the Austric and Tibeto Burmans to the basis of Tantikism comes from the Kalika Puran describing human sacrifice in the temples of Kamakhya and the Copper temple of Sadiya.  Worship of both linga and yoni is also found in Kalika Puran and Yogini Tantra. The Yogin Tantra refers existence of a million lingas in Kamrupa.

The Kalika puran describe that before the introduction of Devi Worship in Kamakhya by Narakasur (Bhaumasur), Shiva was recognized as guardian deity of the land. Siva was concealed within his own city and worshiped by the Kiratas. The faith prevailed in the land even before Narakasur. Yogini tantra describe Bana as great devotee of Shiva.  Bana in his Hasacarita refers to Bhaskarar’s devotion to the “lotus feet of Shiva”.

Traces of the faith are found among Tibeto-Burman tribes such as Koches. The faith was perhaps popular among them and even among Khasis who were the authors of some ancient Megaliths of Assam.

It is quite possible before the introduction of Vedic Religion, evolution of various cults in Assam was laid by Austric, Alpine and Tibeto-Burman elements. The practices later got absorbed and modified after arrival of Brahminincal religion.

The Satpatha Brahmana, records the progress of Aryan to Sadanira, identified with Karatoya and to the east of that river and Pragjyotishpur (Kamrup and Guwahati) in the west, before the spread of Buddhism. The Aitareya Brahmana gives further indication of spread of Aryan culture to Kamrupa. Gopatha Brahmana records the origin of name of Kamrupa and early contact of people of east from west.

On the other hand the worship of Brahmanical gods is proved by Brahmanas, the Grhya Sutras and Epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. Buddhist literature also indicates strong hold of Vedic religion in the Kamrupa before arrival of Buddhism.

The earliest Hindu religion that prevailed in ancient Kamrupa, in addition to tribal faith was Shaivism.  It bears certain affinities with the Bodo tribal deity Sivray Bathau. Shiva linga is similarly represented by a cactus shoot in the Bodo traditional religious belief. Hara and Parvati are sometime worshiped by Bodo as Burdha Gossain (Senior God) and Budhi Gosani  (Senior Goddess).

Ancient Shaivism (500BC – 1200AD)

A large number of pre-Ahom Shaiva temples and religious places prove the popularity of Shiva worship in ancient Kamrupa. The Skund Puran relates how the king Jalpa became a Shiva worshiper and made a temple Jalpeswar at Jalpaigudi. (Skund puran Avantya Khand). Jalpaigudi was a part of Kamrupa kingdom in the past.

The Koch kings of Western Assam claim their mythological origin to Mahadeva. Even today Shiva temple and Saiva sacred places outnumber Sakti and Vishnu temples on the North bank of Brahmaputra.  Bhairava temple of Kamatapur is another old temple of Shiva of ancient Kamrupa build by Koch Kings.

Kalika Puran describe more sacred places of Shiva then Shakta or Visshnu along the Brahamputra valley, as 15, 4, and 5 respectively.  The Kalika puran also mentions two sects of the Saivism in Assam, the Kapalikas and Pasupatas, the former being more terrible, used to perfom gruesome and admoniable rites. The Yogini Tantra describes two sub sects of Shaivism as Kapulas and Avadhutas, worshiping both Shiva and Shakti. These sects were only few dedicated devotees not masses.

Yuan Chewing’s testimony that hundreds of Deva temples in 7th century AD in Kamrupa indicate widespread roots of Brahminical culture in the land. Early rulers of Barman dynasty like Bhuti Barman in 6th century AD patronized the spread of Aryan culture in the land.

Epigraphs refer to the worship of Shiva and erection of temples. Vanamala repaired the fallen temple of Hetuka sulin (Shiva) (Tezpur Grant V24). Ratnapala studded the earth with white washed temples enshrining Sambhu (Guwahati Grant V.10). The Grant of Vallabhdeva refers to a temple of Mahadeva (v13). Bhagdatta, who was a devotee of Krisna, worshiped shiva with penance (Tezpur grant v.5).

Vajradatta had an unblemished faith in Siva (Nowgong grant v.8). The Doobi grant begins with the invocation to Siva in his Concreate form. He “ is lovely with the moon as headgear, the holder of the bow, decorated with particles of ashes” (v1). The same grant describe Bhaskara as a follower of the doctrine of Mahadeva (v.55). The Nidhanpur grant describe Siva’s concrete manifestation (v.2). In the Tezpur Rock inscription, Harjaar is described as Parameswara (L.2). That Vanamala had a faith in Siva is shown by his erection of a Siva Temple. Tezpur Grant. His Tezpur Grant opens with the invocation to the God: “May Siva on whom the waters of Ganja cast up by the wind are as it were, the stars on the firmament, sanctify you”. In the Nowgong grant Vanamala is described as having great faith in Bhava (v 12) The grant opens with an invocation to Rudra (v. 1). The Bargaon grant gives a description of Siva’s tandava dance, stating that the water of the Lauhitya was made beautiful by the reflection falling on it from the dancing figure of Sankara who was engaged in marking quick time music in his primeval form, who assmumed numberlss forms for the welfare of the world (vv 1-2). The reference shows that Siva was conceived as a benefactor of all and a supreme lord in his concrete form. The Guwahati grant opens with an invocation to Sambhu and Pasupati along with the Consorts of Gauri and Ganga (v1). Siva was also identified with Vishnu. “ May Pasupati be glorious , the lord of creation, who is the famous Boar of a wonderful bodily form and she also the Earth, the mother of him (Narka). In the grants of Dharmapala Siva is conceived, probably under the influence of Tantric Buddhism, as the embodiment of two unifying principle called Ardhaya nareswar (Khonamukhi grant, V 1) The Kamuli grant states that Siva was worshiped by the Brahma Sridhara undergoing penecae and Starvation. (V 20)

Epigraphy further testifies to the widespread prevalence of the faith and the worship of Siva in his different mythological manifestations. He was also conceived both in his abstact and concrete forms. The concrete representation will also be evident from the study of his sculptures. As has already been indicated, he stood both for creation and destruction, explained by his various names.

  1. Adideva (Khonamukhi grant v.a)
  2. Paramaheswar (Tezpur Rock Ins L2)
  3. Maheswar (Dhobi grant v 55 )
  4. Isvara (Tezpur Grant)
  5. Mahadeva (grant of Vallabhadeva v 13)
  6. Siva (Tezpur Grant), Kamauli grant
  7. Mahavaraha (Guwahati grant)
  8. Prajadhinatha (ibid)
  9. Shambu (ibid v 10)
  10. Sankara (Bargaon grant vv 1-2)
  11. Pasupati (Guwahati grant vv1-2)
  12. Vhava (Nowgan grant v 12)
  13. Isa (Ibid v 8)
  14. Pinakapani (Doobi grant v1)
  15. Rudra ( Nowgawn grant v 1)
  16. Hetuka Sulin (Tezpur grant)
  17. Gauripati (Grant of Vallabhadeva)
  18. Hara (Bargaon grant)
  19. Kameswara (Tezpur grant, Guwchuki Grant)
  20. Kitava (Guwahati grant)
  21. Padmanatha (Kamauli grant)
  22. Kitava (Guwahati Grant)
  23. Ardhanareswava (Konkamukhi grant)

The worship of Siva in his various forms is confirmed by the extensive ruins of temples and icons of the deity, and found throughout the state. The evidence show that as early as the 5 C AD if no earlier he was worshiped by his iconographic representation in temples and the faith was popular amon all clases of people.

Medieval Shaivism (1200AD 1900AD)

Although Hinduism is as old as the Aryan migration to Assam, and most of the most of the kings preached Hinduism but majority of the population was ethnically non Aryan practiced non Vedic religion till the beginning of the thirteenth century.

Numerically the Hindus were not in majority because the indigenous population of the Mongoloid and Austric stock did not seem to have accepted Hinduism in large number. Hinduism was mainly confined to the Brahmins, Kayasthas, Kalitas and Keots who at different times migrated to Kamrupa from other parts of India.

With the attainment of the pre eminent status by Sakti in the Kamakhya by 12th CAD, Shaivism became less prominent but not antagonistic to the practice of Devi and retained some hold upon masses.

The dynasties of Pusyavarma, Salastmbha and Brahmapala were Saivite during the 1200AD.

In Darrand Rajvansavali by Suryakhari there is an interesting reference of King Narnaryayan a converted Hindu king from Kachari. Before proceeding for a war with Ahom Kindom he had a message in a dream by Mahadeva to organize a dance in honor of HIM according to Kachari rites. Naranarayana organized a Kachari dance perfonce offering ducks, pigeons, liquor, pigs, fowls, buffaloes to Mahadeva on the bank of Sonkosh River.  Afterwards he ordered to perform religious ceremonies north of Goahin Kamal road by Kachari priest and south by Brahmin priest.

(3,191)Shaivism, appears to imbibe some of the charecterstic of Vamacara rites (left) of Shakatism, as evident from two dreadful form of Shiva-Bhairava, viz: Karala Bhairava and Samsana Bhairav. Shiva invariabley came to be associated with his female energy and thus sharp distinction between the two sects considerably narrowed.  The Kalika Puran describes two sects of Shaivism in Assam viz, Kapalikas and Pasupatas, former being more terrible, used to perform gruesome and abominable rites.

The Yogini Tanta (1600 AD) speaks of the Kaulas and the Avadhutas as two sub-sects of Shaivism, performing duel worship of Shiva and Shakti.  The extreme form of left had rituals including Pancamakara are prescribed for these sects, not practiced by masses.

Sectarian outlook of Shaivism, Shaktism or Vaisnavism was not clear before Neo-vasinavite movement by Shankardeva.  According to Manasa puran father in law of Behula a chaste lady was devotee of Shiva until lost all his son, when Behula succeeded in praying Mansa Devi. (3,193).

The Kachari kings of Dimapur, Maibong and Khaspur were Shiva Guari devotee as testified by coins issued by Yasomaryana and Pratarrayana of the 16-17 Centuries. The monolith sand stone pillars of about 12 feet in height and 5 feet in circumference found in ruined Kachari capital Dimapur representing lings. The capital was destroyed by the Ahom army in 1536.

Ahom Kings were primarily Shakt, but most of the existing Shiva temples of Assam were renovated or rebuilt during later part of Ahom rule. During the reign of Dihingia Raja (1495-1541), the indecisive fight between the Ahoms and Kacharis was settled in favor of Ahom because of succeeding in cutting off the neck of animal in one stroke offered to Mahadeva a t Devagram. (3, 193)(Satsari Buranji No 2 Para 140)

Pratap Singha (1603-41) erected Shiva temple at Devagram after getting rid of possession of a Devil by Hindu priest. Linga was consecrated and Hindu priest were appointed for daily worship, before this worship was conducted according to Ahom rites.  (Asam Buranji (Sukumar Mahanta, p 44).

Gardhara Singha (1681-1696) was a great devotee of Shiva Mahadeva. He constructed and maintained the Shiva temple of Umanand and Viswanath. At Vishnwanath temple he performed a great sacrifice officiated by 108 Brhamins.

From Shiva Singha (1714-1744) till the last of Ahom dynasty which terminated in 1826, all the King with single exception of Lakshmi Simha were Saktas followers of Parbatiya Gosain of Sanitpura, Nadia. Lakshmi Singha trained up by Pahumriya Na Gossain was ordained in Shiva Mantra, hence he was Shaivite by initiation.( 3.194). Allthough all the Ahom Kings were formally Shakas, they were eequally attached to Mahadeva. All the Ahom coins right from the Gardhara Simha bears the legend of Haro Gauri. Gardhara Simhas, coin only bear the legend of Siva Padaparasya.

Various temples of Assam were patronized by Ahom Kings as follows

  1. Kedareswar, Kameshwar and Kamleshar at Hajo <1600
  2. Umanand at Guwahat 1614
  3. Gopeswara at Singari Hillock
  4. Viswahnath North Darand
  5. Nagsankara
  6. Haleswar 1707
  7. Nandikeswar 1677
  8. Sukleswar
  9. Pariharewara – Dubi
  10. Vilveswara
  11. Brgneswara (1730)
  12. Dhareswara 1730
  13. Negriting  – 1627 originally at Darand later shifted to Negheriting 1769 when Brahmputra eroded the former structure.
  14. Shivasagar 1622


Father of Shankardeva Kushumvara had no issue with Shiva worship.  He got a son at advanced age after praying to Lord Shiva by invoking his different names. Satysndha  wife of Kushumavra  got a dream of Mahadeva to bear HIM as a child in her womb.  Shankardeva name was given as reincarnation of Shiva. Shankardeva started neovaishnavite movement to stop animal sacrifice for selfish needs to Bharava.

The Shaivism during the period of the neo Vaisnavite movement though as a dominant popular religion lost much of its force. Shiva as a deity, however, could carve out a niche for himself as a great devotee of Vishnu. He was inseparable deity with Hari as Hari Hara form. In the Namaparadha section of Sankardeva’s celebrated work Kirtan Ghosa, the saint reformer considers it a sacrilege on the part of those who make a distinction between Hari and Hara . Siva is treated in episodical and incidental way in his work and treated as subservient to Visnu sympathetically. In some of the Vaisnava Kavyas the glorification of Siva in clearly perceived.

Siva Mahadeva as an agriculturist ,an addict to Ganja as a poor householder indifferent to the welfare and happiness of his wife Parvati and two sons and often indulging in amorous adventures is depicted in Manasa Kavyas of Mankar and Sukaviarayana of 16th CE, also some of the popular work of Bhima carita and folksongs.

In some folk songs he is often described as nacked having matted locks, easily appeased and very often indulging in dance to the accompaniment of the rhythmic sound of damaru. Large numbers of Sadhu dedicated to Siva scattered all over Assam point to the popularity once enjoyed by Shiva Mahadeva in the eastern region.

Modern Shaivism (1900 AD and later)

Strong roots of Shaivism in the North East made this as predominant Hindu sects even today. Although majority of common man do not differentiate between various Hindu deities, and visit all temples, celebrate festivals. There are more neo Vaishnavaite than Shaivaite today,  Nath is the only  sect follower of  Gorakhnath as pure Shiva worshiper left in this region.

After arrival of British there was many archeological research and excavations have been done. Archeological survey and state departments have helped to renovate most of the old temples making access with roads and staircase, new cement roofs and places for priests during post independent period.

Very few new large Shiva temples have been added but there are large numbers of small Shivalaya seen all over the state in homes and colonies of people.


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