Aadheenam & Shaiva Siddhanta – An Introduction

What is Aadheenam

Aadheenam’s are Shaivite monastic institutions. They are the custodians and repository of Shaiva Siddhanta knowledge and help nurture & propagate them. Most of them were set up during 1600’s. The Madurai Adheenam claims its origin to Goddess Meenakshi Herself and believes that the 7th century child saint Thirujnanasambandar revived the Adheenam during his visit to Madurai.

There are many Aadheenams which are involved in maintaining and propagating Shaiva Siddhanta in Tamil Nadu. The most prominent are

1. Dharumai Aadheenam (Dharmapuram)
2. Tiruvaavadudurai Aadheenam (Tiruvaavadudurai)
3. Turupanandal Adheenam (Turupanandal)
4. Madurai Aadheenam (Madurai) and
5. Perur Adheenam (Perur)

The Dharmapuram Aadheenam was founded during the 16th century, along with the Thiruvaduthurai Adheenam and the Thiruppanandal Adheenam, to spread the ideology of Shaiva Sidhantam. there are a total of 27 Shiva temples under the control of the Dharmapuram Aadheenam – including the famous Vaitheeswaran Koil, near Sirkazhi.

Aadheenams are custodians of Shaiva culture and run several institutions to teach and train the various officials and lay disciples. Agamas, Shaiva Shastras, Tirumurais (sacred hymns sung by the Shaiva Nayanmars), and other connected scriptures are taught in traditional manner under the auspices of these Adheenams. Aadheenams collaborate and dont compete with each other.

Adheenams are not managed by Brahmins 

Adheenams were set up by rich landowning upper cast Tamils in the middle of the 16th century.  Over the years they have accumulated a lot of wealth and followers. Currently, only members of four groupings of the Velala caste (Pillais, Tondaimandala Mudaliyars, Karkattar Pillais, Desigars) and the Shaiva Chettiyars are eligible to be initiated into the spiritual line of each of the Adheenams.

Unlike the Veerashaiva, Lingayat, Vokkaliga and other Mutts of neighbouring Karnataka – the Tamil Nadu Adheenams are not political and have stayed away from controversies over the years. It has been a constant battle with the Govt over control of temples, but till date the control has stayed with the Adheenams.

What is Shaiva Siddhanta 

Shaiva Siddhanta  is a form of Shaivism popular in South India and Sri Lanka which propounds a devotional philosophy with the ultimate goal of experiencing union with Shiva. It draws primarily on the Tamil devotional hymns written by Shaiva saints from the 5th to the 9th century, known in their collected form as Tirumurai.

Tirumular’s work Tirumanthiram is one of the bedrocks upon which the structure of Saiva Siddhanta philosophy was built. The central doctrine of the Saiva Siddhanta philosophy is that Siva is the Supreme Reality, and that the Jiva or the individual soul is of the same essence as Siva, but not identical. Pati (God), Pasu (soul), and Pasa (the bonds) and the thirty-six Tattvas or principles which constitute the world, are all real.

Shaiva Siddhanta considers Tamil and Sanskrit as Shiva’s two eyes. They say that when Shiva rolled his Damru for the first time, Sanskrit and Tamil languages came from the two sides of it.

Kashmir Shaivism has been influenced by the teachings of Shaiva Siddhanta.

Who is credited to the creation of this path and the teachings of Shaiva Siddhanta 

Shaiva Siddhanta owes its origin to no single founder. Four Tamil saints called Nalvar – Sambandar, Appar, Sundarar, and Manikkavacakar are considered  the four prominent teachers of this philosophy.They are Shaivite saints from among the 63 Nayanmars. Manikkavacakar is from 4th century, Sambandar & Appar were contemporaries of Adi Shankara in 8th century and Sundarar comes later in the 9th century.

The teachings of Tirumular from 5th century is also part of the Shaiva Siddhanta teachings.

They revived and re-established the religious practices, especially the Temple worship, among the common mass and were influential leaders, at a time when Tamilnadu came to be gripped under the influence of the ascetic missionaries of Jainism and Buddhism. They reclaimed the people and brought them back to the Shaiva fold.

Meykandadevar (13th century) was the first systematic philosopher of the school who compiled the vast knowledge. Credit goes to him to structure the knowledge and summarise the teachings in his book Shivajnanabodham. He was able to establish how this path was distinct from the other Darshana’s.

Many more saints were involved in the evolution of Shaiva Siddhanta.

Shaiva Siddhanta Core Content 

It should be stressed that the Saiva Siddhanta system has for its source material the classic works both in Sanskrit and Tamil. The Vedas, the Upanisads and the Sivagamas in Sanskrit, Sangam literature, Tirukkural and such other works in Tamil bear marks of its influence and contain most of its concepts. But the scope, depth and the essential and distinguishing features of the system are to be defined with reference to two sets of scriptural texts in Tamil. They are the twelve sacred books known as Tirumuraikal (Stotras) and the fourteen canonised philosophical treatises called the Saiva Siddhanta Shastras. For the Temple construction and its worship Sivagamas are followed.

Its literature consists chiefly of: (1) the twenty-eight Saivite Agamas, (2) the collection of Saivite hymns known as Tirumurai compiled by Nambi Andar Nambi, (it contains Tirumanthiram of Tirumular; the Thevaram of Appar, Sundarar, and Sambandar, and the Tiruvachagam of Manickavachagar), (3) the collection of the lives of Saivite saints, known as the Periyapuranam, (4) Meykandar’s Siva-jnanabodham, (5) Arulnandi’s Sivajnanasiddhiar, and the works of Umapati.


  • Sivagnana Mapadiyam by Vajravelu Mudaliar
  • Discussions with my friend Ramamurthy who is passionate about this subject and is in contact with the heads of a few Adheenams
  • Thiru. Arunai Palaravayan – A Tamil language professor and retired as Head of Tamil language department, Loyola College, Chennai. His illustrious father Thiru. Vadivelu Mudaliar served as Tamil Vidwan at Dharmapuram Adheenam.
  • Online Blogs from eSamskriti – Who are Adheenams

Additional Points 

The tantric scriptures of Shaivism are the Agamas. These along with the Vedas are considered the holy scriptures of the religion. Like the word veda indicate knowledge the root gam in the word Agama indicate the dynamism. (Agama is interpreted as the one that “arrived” from God). As the name indicate Agamas are the dynamism of the supreme knowledge. It is the implementation or recipe for attaining the Supreme Truth. If Vedas are the science, Agamas are the engineering. ( Agama texts have 3 branches – Shaiva, Vaishnava, and Shakta)

Saint Tirumular says, ‘ The Vedas and Sivagamas are the true scriptures divinely bestowed upon man ; and they are respectively general and special. Some may attribute difference between their conclusions, but for the great they are identical.’

The history of the 63 Nayanmars which includes the Nalvar were compiled by Shekizhar, a poet under the instruction of later Cholas in 11th Century. Nambi Andar Nambi, another poet organised the 12 Thirumarais (sthothra literature) in 11th century under the instructions of the famous Rajaraja Chola.

The relative merits of the various spiritual authoritative works can be gleaned from the following Tamil verse :

The Veda is cow, cow’s milk is the Sivagamas, Tevaram, and Tiruvacakam – the Tamil works of the four Teachers, are the ghee obtained from the Agamas. If we estimate the nature of Sivajnana Bodham which was produced in Tamil by Meykandar, it should be adjudged the taste of the ghee.

In 12th century a great saint named Aghorasiva resided as the head of the Chidambaram temple. He was successful in creating and establishing an amalgamation of Sanskrit rituals and Tamil Siddhanta traditions.  The methods he gave for worship of Shaiva pantheon is followed even today across all Shiva temples in South India. His celebrated Kriyakramadyotika is the single most important text when it comes to Shaiva Siddhanta rituals for temples.

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