Abhinavagupta, Life and Works

Hinduism Concepts

by Jayaram V

Abhinavagupta was a famous Kashmiri Philosopher, who lived some time between the 10th and 11th century AD. Through his immortal compositions and commentaries in Sanskrit, he played an important role in the revival of Kashmiri Saivism. He codified and systematized the tantric principles, practices and philosophy of Kashmiri Saivism and established its underlying connection with the Vedic tradition.

He is also recognized for his contribution in the field of arts. His Abhinavabharati, a commentary on the Natyasastra (a treatise on dance) of Bharata Muni, is regarded as an authoritative classical work on the subject.

According to tradition, he was born in a Brahmin family, to Vimala and Narasimhagupta, who were great devotees of Lord Shiva. He acquired the knowledge of various Shastras from over 15 teachers belonging to different traditions including Vaishnavism and Buddhism.

Followers of Saivism revere Abhinavagupta as a Siddha Yogi of highest caliber, who brought to light the secrets and transcendental awareness of Shaktipath or the path of Shakti, which was made popular in recent times by Swami Muktananda and Swami Nityananda.

Abhinavagupta was a devotee of Shiva. He saw the world as an aspect of Shiva and Shakti, permeated by their presence. Since they existed in everything, one could realize their presence within oneself by restraining the mind and senses and listening to the subtle divine sound that flowed in everyone.

Abhinavagupta was a realist and pragmatist, who considered direct experience (pratyaksha) of the world as an important source to realize the supreme truth of Shiva, while it was the traditional practice to restrain the senses and ignored the world and perceptual reality as an illusion.

Therefore, he laid emphasis upon the importance of senses, worldly phenomena and objective or sensory experience in knowing and finding Shiva as oneself on the path of liberation beyond ignorance, delusion and duality. Hence, for him the mind and the body constituted important means to experience higher transcendental states.

They were the playground in which Shakti would play out her dutiful role and ultimately facilitate the inner transformation by the grace of Siva. There was no need to discard them or treat them harshly. Some of his important works are listed below.

  • Tantraloka, The World of Tantra. It deals with the principles and practices of Kashmiri Saivism
  • Tantrasara, The Essence of Tantra, which summarizes in prose many concepts and practices of Tantraloka.
  • Devotional poems on such topics as consciousness, universal self, transcendental experience, various inner and outer divinities and finally Siva and Shakti.
  • Philosophical works on Pratyabhigna and other subjects.
  • Commentaries such as Natyasastra of Bharatamuni and works of some famous ancient authors such as Kalidasa and Anandavardhana.

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