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Charya in Saiva Siddhanta

Charya is the term used to define the moral and religious conduct in Saiva Siddhanta (southern school of Shaivism). It is one of the four spiritual paths prescribed in the Saiva Siddhanta. These paths are based on the Shaiva Agamas (Shaivite texts) which are considered canonical by the followers of Shaivism.

According to Shiva followers, there are four successive stages in the path to realization, and proficiency where one stage qualifies one for the next. These are charya (religious conduct), kriya (action), yoga (union) and jnana (knowledge or liberation). The Tamil terms for these are sheelam, nonbu, serivu and arivu respectively.

Charya is thus a basic discipline that has to be followed by a siddhantin (follower of southern Shaivism).

The two aspects of Charya – moral conduct and ritual practice – are interrelated. The sadhaka (follower of spiritual disciplines) should have an attitude of surrender towards God at all times. He must be imbued with a spirit of humility in his spiritual progress. The follower of Charya should be ready to serve both God and his devotees without any expectation. He must show great reverence towards the preceptors and teachers of the Shaiva faith, regarding them as the visible manifestations of the God himself. He must eschew lust, anger, jealousy and other shortcomings in himself.

The other aspect of Charya is visual conduct and worship of Shiva in his various manifestations. The forms of Shiva installed in temples, such as Nataraja (the dancing Shiva), Somaskanda (Shiva with his consort Uma and their divine child Skanda), Dakshinamurti (Shiva as teacher of knowledge, in the south-facing form) and other divine icons are to be worshiped.

Cleaning of the temple precincts, polishing the floor of the temple, gathering of flowers for worship, filling the temple lamps with oil, lighting lamps, maintaining the temple gardens and water tanks, serving devotees – these are some of the forms of divine service a devotee should perform. He should perform the prescribed rituals with reverence and concentration. The follower of Charya should keep out a God-centered attitude in all his activities, both sacred and secular.

Strict adherence to this path is also known as the dasa marga (the way of the servant), where the devotee regards himself to be a slave of the Lord. He has a similar attitude towards the teacher who shows him the path to God. One is said to attain the world of Shiva by pursuing this path.

Charya is not exclusive of the other paths, but is present in all of them. It is indeed a very practical approach to life which can make one happy, content and centered in God.

Source – 
  • Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume III page 83 – 84 - IHRF
  • Saiva Siddhanta (1974) V A Devasenapathi – Chennai, University of Madras.
  • Religion and Mysticism in the Periyapuranam (1990) R Gopalakrishnan - Chennai, University of Madras.