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c. 950 CE
Diedc. 1016 CE
CreedKashmir Shaivism
Religious career

Abhinavagupta (c. 950 - 1016 CE[1][2]) was a philosopher, mystic and aesthetician from Kashmir.[3] He was also considered an influential musician, poet, dramatist, exegete, theologian, and logician[4][5] - a polymathic personality who exercised strong influences on Indian culture.[6][7]

Abhinavagupta was born in a Kashmiri Brahmin[8] family of scholars and mystics and studied all the schools of philosophy and art of his time under the guidance of as many as fifteen (or more) teachers and gurus.[2] In his long life he completed over 35 works, the largest and most famous of which is Tantr?loka, an encyclopedic treatise on all the philosophical and practical aspects of Kaula and Trika (known today as Kashmir Shaivism). Another one of his very important contributions was in the field of philosophy of aesthetics with his famous Abhinavabh?rat? commentary of Nyastra of Bharata Muni.[9]


"Abhinavagupta" was not his real name, rather a title he earned from his master, carrying a meaning of "competence and authoritativeness".[2][10] In his analysis, Jayaratha (1150-1200 AD)[2] - who was Abhinavagupta's most important commentator - also reveals three more meanings: "being ever vigilant", "being present everywhere" and "protected by praises".[11] Raniero Gnoli, the only Sanskrit scholar who completed a translation of Tantr?loka in a European language, mentions that "Abhinava" also means "new",[12] as a reference to the ever-new creative force of his mystical experience.

From Jayaratha, we learn that Abhinavagupta was in possession of all the six qualities required for the recipients of the tremendous level of ?aktip?ta, as described in the sacred texts (?r?p?rvastra):[13] an unflinching faith in God, realisation of mantras, control over objective principles (referring to the 36 tattvas), successful conclusion of all the activities undertaken, poetic creativity and spontaneous knowledge of all disciplines.[2]

Abhinavagupta's creation is well equilibrated between the branches of the triad (Trika): will (icch?), knowledge (jñ?na), action (kriy?); his works also include devotional songs, academical/philosophical works[2] and works describing ritual/yogic practices.[14]

As an author, he is considered a systematiser of the philosophical thought. He reconstructed, rationalised and orchestrated the philosophical knowledge into a more coherent form,[15] assessing all the available sources of his time, not unlike a modern scientific researcher of Indology.

Various contemporary scholars have characterised Abhinavagupta as a "brilliant scholar and saint",[16] "the pinnacle of the development of Ka?mir ?aivism"[16] and "in possession of yogic realization".[2]

Social background, family and disciples

"Magical" birth

The term by which Abhinavagupta himself defines his origin is "yogin?bh?", 'born of a yogin?'.[2][17] In Kashmir Shaivism and especially in Kaula it is considered that a progeny of parents "established in the divine essence of Bhairava",[18] is endowed with exceptional spiritual and intellectual prowess. Such a child is supposed to be "the depository of knowledge", who "even as a child in the womb, has the form of Shiva",[11] to enumerate but a few of the classical attributes of his kind.


Abhinavagupta was born in a Kashmiri Brahmin family.[19] His mother, Vimal? (Vimalakal?) died when Abhinavagupta was just two years old;[20][2] as a consequence of losing his mother, of whom he was reportedly very attached,[13] he grew more distant from worldly life and focused all the more on spiritual endeavour.

The father, Narasi?ha Gupta, after his wife's death favoured an ascetic lifestyle, while raising his three children. He had a cultivated mind and a heart "outstandingly adorned with devotion to Mahesvara (Shiva)"[20] (in Abhinavagupta's own words). He was Abhinavagupta's first teacher, instructing him in grammar, logic and literature.[2]


Abhinavagupta had a brother and a sister. The brother, Manoratha, was a well-versed devotee of Shiva.[2] His sister, Amb? (probable name, according to Navjivan Rastogi), devoted herself to worship after the death of her husband in late life.

His cousin Kar?a demonstrated even from his youth that he grasped the essence of ?aivism and was detached of the world. His wife was presumably Abhinavagupta's older sister Amb?,[2] who looked with reverence upon her illustrious brother. Amb? and Kar?a had a son, Yoge?varidatta, who was precociously talented in yoga[2] (yoge?var means "lord of yoga").

Abhinavagupta also mentions his disciple R?madeva as faithfully devoted to scriptural study and serving his master.[2] Another cousin was K?ema, possibly the same as Abhinavagupta's illustrious disciple K?emar?ja. Mandra, a childhood friend of Kar?a, was their host in a suburban residence; he was not only rich and in possession of a pleasing personality, but also equally learned.[2] And last but not least, Vatasik?, Mandra's aunt, who got a special mention from Abhinavagupta for caring for him with exceptional dedication and concern; to express his gratitude, Abhinavagupta declared that Vatasik? deserved the credit for the successful completion of his work.[2]

The emerging picture here is that Abhinavagupta lived in a nurturing and protected environment, where his creative energies got all the support they required. Everyone around him was filled with spiritual fervor and had taken Abhinavagupta as their spiritual master. Such a supporting group of family and friends was equally necessary as his personal qualities of genius, to complete a work of the magnitude of Tantr?loka.


By Abhinavagupta's own account, his most remote known ancestor was called Atrigupta, born in Madhyade?a: [Manusmirti (circa 1500 BC, 2/21) defines the Madhyadesh region as vast plains between Himalaya and Vindhya mountains and to the east of the river Vinasana (invisible Saraswati) and to the west of Praya]. Born in Madhyade?a he travelled to Kashmir at the request of the king Lalit?ditya,[2][11] around year 740 CE.[21]


Abhinavagupta is famous for his voracious thirst for knowledge. To study he took many teachers (as many as fifteen),[2] both mystical philosophers and scholars. He approached Vaiavas, Buddhists, ?iddh?nta ?aivists, and the Trika scholars.

Among the most prominent of his teachers, he enumerates four, two of whom were V?man?tha, who instructed him in dualistic ?aivism,[2] and Bh?tir?ja in the dualist/nondualist school. Besides being the teacher of the famous Abhinavagupta, Bh?tir?ja was also the father of two eminent scholars.[2]

Lak?ma?agupta, a direct disciple of Utpaladeva, in the lineage of Trayambaka, was highly respected by Abhinavagupta and taught him all the schools of monistic thought: Krama, Trika, and Pratyabhijña (except Kula).[2] ?ambhun?tha taught him the fourth school (Ardha-trayambaka). This school is in fact Kaula, and it was emanated from Trayambaka's daughter.

For Abhinavagupta, ?ambhun?tha was the most admired guru. Describing the greatness of his master, he compared ?ambhun?tha to the Sun, in his power to dispel ignorance from the heart, and, in another place, with "the Moon shining over the ocean of Trika knowledge."[11] Abhinavagupta received Kaula initiation through ?ambhun?tha's wife (acting as a d?t? or conduit). The energy of this initiation is transmitted and sublimated into the heart and finally into consciousness. Such a method is difficult but very rapid and is reserved for those who shed their mental limitations and are pure. It was ?ambhun?tha who requested he write Tantr?loka. As guru, he had a profound influence in the structure of Tantr?loka[22] and in the life of its creator, Abhinavagupta.[2]

As many as twelve more of his principal teachers are enumerated by name but without details.[2] It is believed that Abhinavagupta had more secondary teachers. Moreover, during his life he had accumulated a large number of texts from which he quoted in his magnum opus, in his desire to create a synthetic, all-inclusive system, where the contrasts of different scriptures could be resolved by integration into a superior perspective.


Abhinavagupta remained unmarried all his life,[2] and as an adept of Kaula, at least initially maintained brahmacharya and supposedly used the vital force of his energy (ojas) to deepen his understanding of the spiritual nervous system he outlined in his works--a system involving ritual union between Purusha (as Shiva) and Shakti. Such union is essentially non-physical and universal, and thus Abhinavagupta conceived himself as always in communion with Shiva-Shakti. In the context of his life and teachings, Abhinavagupta parallels Shiva as both ascetic and enjoyer.

Abhinavagupta studied assiduously at least until the age of thirty or thirty-five.[21] To accomplish that he travelled, mostly inside Kashmir.[11] By his own testimony, he had attained spiritual liberation through his Kaula practice, under the guidance of his most admired master, ?ambhun?tha.[2] He lived in his home (functioning as an ashram) with his family members and disciples,[23] and he did not become a wandering monk, nor did he take on the regular duties of his family, but lived out his life as a writer and a teacher.[11] Abhinavagupta's personality was described as a living realisation of his vision.[4]

In an epoch pen-painting, Abhinavagupta is depicted seated in Virasana, surrounded by devoted disciples and family, performing a kind of trance-inducing music on a veena while dictating verses of Tantr?loka to one of his attendees--behind him two d?t? (women yogi) waiting on him. A legend about the moment of his death (placed somewhere between 1015 and 1025, depending on the source), says that he took with him 1,200 disciples and marched off to a cave (the Bhairava Cave, an actual place known to this day), reciting his poem Bhairava-stava, a devotional work. They were never to be seen again, supposedly translating together into the spiritual world.[24]


The trident (tril?bija maalam), symbol and yantra of Parama Shiva, representing the triadic energies of par?, par?-apar? and apar? ?akti

Abhinavagupta's works fall into multiple sections: manuals of religious ritual, devotional songs, philosophical works and philosophy of aesthetics. Here are enumerated most of his works.[9] Bold type faced titles represent the most important ones.

Religious works


His most important work was Tantr?loka ("Elucidation of Tantra"), a synthesis of the entire Trika system.[2] Its only complete translation into a European language - Italian - is credited to Raniero Gnoli, now at its second edition.[25] The esoteric chapter 29 on the Kaula ritual was translated in English together with Jayaratha's commentary by John R. Dupuche.[11] A complex study on the context, authors, contents and references of Tantr?loka was published by Navjivan Rastogi, Prof. of the Lucknow University.[2] Though there are no English translations of Tantr?loka to date, the last recognized master of the oral tradition of Kashmir Shaivism, Swami Lakshman Joo, gave a condensed version of the key philosophical chapters of Tantr?loka in his book, Kashmir Shaivism - The Secret Supreme.[26]

Another important text was the commentary on Par?trik?, Par?trik?vivara?a, detailing the signification of the phonematic energies and their two sequential ordering systems, M?t?k? and M?lin?. This was the last major translation project of Jaideva Singh.[27]


Tantras?ra ("Essence of Tantra") is a summarised version, in prose, of Tantr?loka, which was once more summarised in Tantroccaya, and finally presented in a very short summary form under the name of Tantrava?adh?nik? - the "Seed of Tantra".

P?rvapañcik? was a commentary of P?rvatantra, alias M?lin?vijaya Tantra, lost to this day. M?lin?vijay?-varttika ("Commentary on M?lin?vijaya") is a versified commentary on M?lin?vijaya Tantra's first verse. Kramakeli, "Krama's Play" was a commentary of Kramastotra, now lost. Bhagavadg?t?rtha-sa?graha which translates "Commentary on Bhagavad Gita" has now an English translation by Boris Marjanovic.[28]

Other religious works are: Par?trik?-laghuv?tti, "A Short Commentary on Par?trik?", Paryantapañck? ("Fifty Verses on the Ultimate Reality"), Rahasyapañcada?ik? ("Fifteen Verses on the Mystical Doctrine"), Laghv? prakriy? ("Short Ceremony"), Dev?stotravivara?a ("Commentary on the Hymn to Devi") and Param?rthas?ra ("Essence of the Supreme Reality").

Devotional hymns

Abhinavagupta has composed a number of devotional poems, most of which have been translated into French by Lilian Silburn:[29]

  • Bodhapañcada?ik? - "Fifteen Verses on Consciousness";
  • Param?rthacarc? - "Discussion on the Supreme Reality";
  • Anubhavanivedana - "Tribute of the Inner Experience";
  • Anuttarik? - "Eight Verses on Anuttara";
  • Krama-stotra - an hymn, different from the fundamental text of the Krama school;
  • Bhairava-stava - "Hymn to Bhairava";
  • Dehasthadevat?cakra-stotra - "Hymn to the Wheel of Divinities that Live in the Body";
  • Param?rthadv?da?ik? - "Twelve Verses on the Supreme Reality" and
  • Mahopade?a-viatik? - "Twenty Verses on the Great Teaching".
  • Another poem ?iva?aktyavin?bh?va-stotra - "Hymn on the Inseparability of Shiva and Shakti" was lost.

Philosophical works

One of the most important works of Abhinavagupta is varapratyabhijñ?-vimar?ini ("Commentary to the Verses on the Recognition of the Lord") and varapratyabhijñ?-viv?ti-vimar?ini ("Commentary on the explanation of varapratyabhijñ?"). This treatise is fundamental in the transmission of the Pratyabhijña school (the branch of Kashmir Shaivism based on direct recognition of the Lord) to our days. Another commentary on a Pratyabhijña work - ?ivadty?-locana ("Light on ?ivadi") - is now lost. Another lost commentary is Pad?rthaprave?a-nir?aya-k? and Prak?r?kavivara?a ("Comment on the Notebook") referring to the third chapter of V?kyapad?ya of Bhartrihari. Two more philosophical texts of Abhinavagupta are Kath?mukha-tilaka("Ornament of the Face of Discourses") and Bhedav?da-vid?ra?a ("Confrontation of the Dualist Thesis"). Abhinavagupta's thought was strongly influenced by Buddhist logic.[30]

Poetical and dramatic works

Abhinavaguptas most important work on the philosophy of art is Abhinavabh?rat? - a long and complex commentary on Natya Shastra of Bharata Muni. This work has been one of the most important factors contributing to Abhinavagupta's fame up until present day. His most important contribution was that to the theory of rasa (aesthetic savour).

Other poetical works include: Gha?a-karpara-kulaka-viv?ti, a commentary on "Gha?akarpara" of Kalidasa; K?vyakau?ukavivara?a, a "Commentary to the Wonder of Poetry" (a work of Bhaa Tauta), now lost; and Dhvany?lokalocana, "Illustration of Dhvany?loka", which is a famous work of Anandavardhana.


  1. ^ Triadic Heart of Shiva, Paul E. Muller-Ortega, page 12
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Rastogi, Navjivan (1987). Introduction to the Tantraloka: A Study in Structure. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 9788120801806.
  3. ^ "Abhinavagupta - the Philosopher". Archived from the original on 20 July 2017. Retrieved 2012.
  4. ^ a b Re-accessing Abhinavagupta, Navjivan Rastogi, page 4
  5. ^ Key to the Vedas, Nathalia Mikhailova, page 169
  6. ^ The Pratyabhijñ? Philosophy, Ganesh Vasudeo Tagare, page 12
  7. ^ Companion to Tantra, S.C. Banerji, page 89
  8. ^ Andrew O. Fort; Patricia Y. Mumme (1 January 1996). Living Liberation in Hindu Thought. SUNY Press. p. 188.
  9. ^ a b Luce dei Tantra, Tantr?loka, Abhinavagupta, Raniero Gnoli, page LXXVII
  10. ^ The Krama Tantricism of Kashmir; Navjivan Rastogi, page 157
  11. ^ a b c d e f g John R. Dupuche. The Kula Ritual as Elaborated in Chapter 29 of the Tantr?loka of Abhinavagupta.
  12. ^ Luce dei Tantra, Tantr?loka, Abhinavagupta, Raniero Gnoli, 1999, page 3
  13. ^ a b Abhinavagupta, Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande, page 19
  14. ^ Re-accessing Abhinavagupta, Navjivan Rastogi, page 8
  15. ^ Re-accessing Abhinavagupta, Navjivan Rastogi, page 10
  16. ^ a b vara Pratyabhijñ? K?rik? of Utpaladeva, Verses on the Recognition of the Lord; B. N. Pandit, page XXXIII
  17. ^ Luce dei Tantra, Tantr?loka, Abhinavagupta, Raniero Gnoli, page 3
  18. ^ Re-accessing Abhinavagupta, Navjivan Rastogi, page 2
  19. ^ Andrew O. Fort; Patricia Y. Mumme (1 January 1996). Living Liberation in Hindu Thought. SUNY Press. p. 188.
  20. ^ a b Luce dei Tantra, Tantr?loka, Abhinavagupta, Raniero Gnoli, page 4
  21. ^ a b Triadic Mysticism, Paul E. Murphy, page 12
  22. ^ The Triadic Heart of ?iva, Kaula Tantricism of Abhinavagupta in the Non-Dual Shaivism of Kashmir; Paul Eduardo Muller-Ortega, page 1
  23. ^ vara Pratyabhijñ? K?rik? of Utpaladeva, Verses on the Recognition of the Lord; B. N. Pandit, page XXXIV
  24. ^ Triadic Mysticism, Paul E. Murphy, page 13
  25. ^ Luce dei Tantra, Tantr?loka, Abhinavagupta, Raniero Gnoli, 1999
  26. ^ Kashmir Shaivism - The Secret Supreme, ed, John Hughes, SUNY press, 1985.
  27. ^ Para-trisika-Vivarana, Jaideva Singh
  28. ^ Abhinavagupta's Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, Boris Marjanovic
  29. ^ Hymnes de Abhinavagupta: Traduits et commentés, Lilian Silburn
  30. ^ Andre Padoux. Vac: The Concept of the Word in Selected Hindu Tantras. SUNY Press, 1990. page 180 "One knows that the thought of such authors as Abhinavagupta was strongly influenced by Buddhist logic."

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