Shaivism is Kashmir’s oldest philosophical tradition. If Rajatarangini, the book by the twelfth century Kashmiri historian Kalhana, is to be believed, Shaivism was prevalent in Kashmir before King Ashoka’s time. Kalhana has said that Ashoka made Kashmir a part of his Mauryan Empire in the third century BC. Ashoka had converted to Buddhism, but he built Shiva temples in Kashmir. He also built the city of Srinagara (close to Srinagar).
Early Kashmiri Shaivism was dualistic. In the latter centuries of the first millennium AD, Kashmiri Shaivism took a monistic turn. This new system, called Tarika Shastra, was founded by Vasugupta (800 – 850 AD), who lived close to what are now called the Shalimar Gardens of Srinagar. He was the author of Shiva Sutras which contain seventy-seven aphorisms. He also wrote Spanda Karikas, a commentary on his Shiva Sutras.
The next major philosopher of Kashmiri Shaivism was Somananda (875–925). He was a disciple of Vasugupta. According to some legends, Somananda was the descendent of the Vedic sage Durvasa who had received from Shiva the mission of propagating the philosophy of Shaivism. Somananda was the author of Shivadrishti (Cognition of Shiva.) His disciple Utpaladeva (900–950) wrote a book called Shivadrishtivritti, which is a commentary on Shivadrishti.
Utpaladeva founded the Pratyabhijñā school, an authoritative system of monistic idealistic Kashmiri Shaivism. Pratyabhijñā means “Recognition.” His book Īśvarapratyabhijñā-Kārikā (Verses on the Recognition of the Lord), and his two commentaries on this book, are the most important works of the Pratyabhijñā school.
Abhinavagupta (950 –1016) is another important philosopher of the Pratyabhijñā school. A disciple of a disciple of Utpaladeva, he was born in a Kashmiri Brahmin family of theologians and mystics, He is credited with 35 works, the most famous of which is the philosophical treatise Tantrāloka (Illumination of the Tantras). Through this work, Abhinavagupta has attempted to systematize the Tarika doctrine and practice. In his dedicatory verse, he wrote: ”We praise Shiva, who manifests the differentiated universe as the prima facie argument, and then leads it back to unity as the established conclusion.”
Between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries, Shaivism disappeared from Kashmir, but it continues to flourish in South India. Kashmiri Shaivism has influenced several Indian traditions, particularly the Haṭha-yoga traditions.