Monthly Archives: September 2012

Re: Your research on Karna

I would greatly appreciate it, if could help me in understanding some aspects of Karna’s life.

I have, during my research, not really been able to find out the antecedents of Adhiratha, Vasusena’s adoptive father. And as you are well aware, a lot of the issues confronting the adolescent, and later, the adult Karna hinge on him being addressed as Sootaputra. I thought you could shed some light on this. Technically, Adhiratha’s mother should be a Brahmin/Rishi’s daughter, while his father would be a Kshatriya warrior King/ Prince, if he is a Soota.

Also, is it possible that Adhiratha, and Vidura (Also called Daasi-Suta {not Soota}) could have had some connection? Wasn’t Vidura’s wife Aruni (also a Soota, the daughter of King Devaka by a Shudra handmaid) also called Radha, as was Adhiratha’s wife (From whom Karna got the Metronymic Radheya)? Although, strictly going by definitions, Vidura is not really a Soota at all- he was born of a Shudra maid and Rishi Vyasa…

I would love to hear more from you on this… Blessings, Deepam


A nameless, aimless waif on earth.
Relentless Fate swoop’d thee to serve Her aim.
And veer’d thy steps into a nest of plots
And feuds: A Royal house of power-drunk sots,
Perdue to Pity, Chivalry, e’en shame!

Beguil’d with bribe of crown to battle in cause
Of king, who match’d thee ‘gainst thy very kin,
Thy valor, bounty, innocence of sin
Avail’d thee naught ‘gainst unjust death. Alas!
Befooled babe ‘gainst Fate’s bewildering odds!
Bejeweled bauble of the jeering Gods!

—T.P. Kailasam


1.1. Dear Shri Deepamjee, You are welcome. Thank you for asking the questions. I find the subject of your research quite interesting; and more interesting is your background. You say that after being an Officer in  the Army  and quitting it about a dozen years ago you have taken up research; and have authored a book on ‘The Timeless Faith: Dialogues on Hinduism’.

1.2. You mentioned that you registered on Sulekha only in order to talk to me. That’s ok. May I suggest you stay here and look around; you will find a number of wonderfully gifted persons who write with great skill and enterprise on diverse subjects . Your interactions could be mutually beneficial.

1.3. You have raised a number of issues and my response might be lengthy. I therefore prefer to post it as blog, rather than as a comment or send it to you  by E-mail .I reckon that if posted on the net it might also help those looking for similar answers.

1.4. I suggest you read my earlier posts on Draupadi, Kunti and Satyavathi, the three most remarkable women of Mahabharata who wielded enormous influence and power with skill and sagacity over the lives of those around them; and more importantly they knew precisely when not to exhibit their power. You might also read my post on the concept of Dharma as it was employed and demonstrated in Mahabharata. This article briefly discusses some of the issues related to your research; it might be of use, modestly.

The Question of Caste

2.1. Since your questions touch upon caste and other social issues, it is important to understand the matrix of the then prevailing system.

The question of caste and the systems of its classifications and sub- classifications played a crucial role in the story of Mahabharata; and particularly in the lives of those  disadvantaged ones. The caste spread its tentacles deep into every aspect of the Mahabharata society; and had a vise- like stranglehold over matters concerning ones position and rights in the society, as also the matters related to property –rights, inheritance etc.

2.2. The Mahabharata society functioned, I reckon, not as a collection of free individuals enjoying equal rights; or as a cohesive society bound together by a set of equitable –common civil laws. Its society was viewed as a community made up of distinct caste groups. Its specific position in social hierarchy, its economic and social functions, rights and responsibilities of each group were well recognized and articulated.

The Bhagavad-Gita tried to mollify a bad situation that was getting worse by clarifying that the four-way classification was indeed based on ones merit or excellence (guna) and functions (karma).But that sadly remained an academic placation.

2.3. A person in the Mahabharata society derived his position and rights by virtue of being a   member of a given caste-group rather than as an individual on the strength of  his merits. The questions of his status, his inheritance as also those of his offspring were decided in the context of his sub caste-group. The matter would usually be fairly simple and well laid out when both the husband and wife belonged to the same caste-group. But, it would get rather complicated when man and woman came from different caste-groups.

The then Law-givers went into great lengths to classify and sub-classify the offspring of such inter-caste marriages, in order to determine their status and rights. There were, of course, supplementary questions that begged for answers. Such uncomfortable questions  arose in the context of those born out of the wedlock or of those born to a re-married woman and such other complications.

Towards the end of the epic, in the Shanthi-parva, Yudhistira the newly anointed king queries, among other things, the wise old Bhishma strung on a bed of arrows: “We hear of many disputes that arise out of the question of the sons. Do thou solve the doubt for us, who are bewildered “. Bhishma then initially lists out nine types or categories of sons who then are classified as those: (i) sons who belong to the family and have also the right to inherit; (ii) and as those sons who only belong to the family, but have not the right to inherit. Bhishma then goes on to list twelve other types of sons who are born out of man and woman who belong to different castes.

Of these the first six are termed apadh-vamsaja (three types born of a Brahman with Kshatriya, Vaishya or Sudra woman; two types born of a Kshatriya with Vaishya or Sudra woman; and one type born of a Vaishya with a Sudra woman); and six other types termed apasada (three types born of Sudra with Brahman, Kshatriya or Vaishya woman; two types born of a Vaishya with Brahman or Kshatriya woman; and, one type born of a Kshatriya with Brahman woman). Apart from these there are also other categories born outside –wedlock with or the without the express approval of the husband; sons of re-married woman; sons born to widows, sons born to virgins; as also those sons adopted, sons gifted, adopted from other parents; those abandoned infants picked up from the street and whose parentage is not known; and, sons bought for price etc. The rights of inheritance or otherwise, the caste and the social status of each category are also listed.

2.4. The later text the Arthasastra (dated around the third century BCE) fairly well enumerated the classifications based on the distinction whether the male was of a superior caste (anuloma) or whether the female was of a superior caste (pratiloma). Those were again sub-classified depending on how far a spouse ranked below the other.

For instance, the son begotten by a Brahman from a Kshatriya woman was a murddhabhishikta (an anantaráputráha or savarna marriage); a son begotten by a Brahman from a Vaishya woman was ambastha; and a son begotten by a Brahman  from a Sudra woman was a Nisháda or Párasava. Similar classifications were provided for Kshatriyas and Vaishyas who married below their caste-rank .The rights of those offsprings diminished progressively.

[Chapter VII : “Distinction between Sons” in the section of “Division of Inheritance” in Book III, “Concerning law” of the Arthasástra of Kautilya.]

KAZ03.7.20/ brāhmaṇa.kṣatriyayor anantarā.putrāḥ savarṇāḥ, eka.antarā asavarṇāḥ //
KAZ03.7.21/ brāhmaṇasya vaiśyāyām ambaṣṭhaḥ, śūdrāyāṃ niṣādaḥ pāraśavo vā //
KAZ03.7.22/ kṣatriyasya śūdrāyām ugraḥ //
KAZ03.7.23/ śūdra eva vaiśyasya //
KAZ03.7.24/ savarṇāsu ca^eṣām acarita.vratebhyo jātā vrātyāḥ //
KAZ03.7.25/ ity anulomāḥ //
KAZ03.7.26/ śūdrād āyogava.kṣatta.caṇḍālāḥ //
KAZ03.7.27/ vaiśyān māgadha.vaidehakau //
KAZ03.7.28/ kṣatriyāt sūtaḥ //

2.5. Under a similar classification, the offspring begotten by a Brahman woman from a Kshatriya male was called Suta; her offspring from a Vaishya male was Videha; and her offspring from a Sudra was a Sudra. Similar sub-classifications were provided for Kashatriya and Vaishya women marring below their caste-rank. The Artha-sastra said, the sons begotten by a Súdra on women of higher castes were Ayogava, Kshatta, and Chandála. The term Kshatta, however, had earlier had a totally different connotation in the Mahabharata times, as we shall see in the next paragraph.

2.6. The sub-classifications briefly outlined above might look rather pedantic and obtuse. But, they had the bite to inject pain and humiliation into the lives of many virtuous but underprivileged persons in the Mahabharata tale.

The caste issue was a tragedy that not merely marred the lives of some its characters but it also turned into a bane and curse on the countless generations that followed.

[On the question of caste determining ones position in the Mahabharata society, there is an alternate view. It points out that Krishna , a Yadava was revered as a  divine person; Satyavathi , a fisher-woman, could become a Queen;  Vyasa , a half-breed, was the most respected Sage; and , Karna the son of a Suta , was appointed a King. Thus , it was not merely the caste;  but it was  ones merit that truly mattered.]


The Sutas

3.1. The offspring born of a Brahman woman from her Kshatriya husband was labeled a Suta. You come across a number of Sutas in the Mahabharata story; and most of them played crucial but thankless roles; and endured humiliation and pain.

The terms Suta and Suti or Sauti (son of suta) appear to have gained currency at a later time. For instance Yadu the ancestor of the Yadavas in which linage Krishna and Balarama descended was the son of the legendry  King Yayathi (Kshatriya) and Devayani (daughter of the Brahman Guru Shukracharya) . Yadu was technically a Suta –  as per the norms that later came into use ; but, Yadu was never addressed as a Suta , nor his descendents were termed Sauti.

3.2. The Sutas of Mahabharata traditionally served the kings and functioned as their charioteers (Rathakára); and as those who reported events, narrated stories, read out massages and took out messages from the king. They were also the repositories of the lore and genealogies of the Royal dynasties. The Sutas in general, were confidants of the king, at times his advisers; and moved closely with the king while he was in his living quarters (anthahpura).

But Sutas were never treated as friends of the king; nor were they provided living quarters in the palace per se .There are hardly any instances of Sutas  being offered Brahman or Kshatriya brides, in marriage. The Sutas married among themselves; and followed the customs and avocations their ancestors.

3.3. To mention some of the Sutas, Sanjaya (the son of Gavalgana who also was in the service of the kings of Hasthinapur) the charioteer who was temporarily bestowed  long-distance-vision of the happenings on the battle fields of Kurukshetra;  and who narrated the war events to his blind king Dhritarashtra was a Suta.

Ugrashrava (meaning one blessed with high or loud voice) was often addressed as Sauti(the son of a Suta). He was the son of a Suta Lomaharsha or Lomaharshana or Romaharshana(because of his delightful and thrilling manner of narration). Lomaharshana Suta is the one who narrated the Srimad Bhagavata purana to the sage Saunaka and other at Naimsaranya – a forest named after the king of the yore Nimi.  His son Ugrashrava   recited in verse the entire epic story of Mahabharata, also to the sages in Naimsaranya.Ugrashrava  was revered as one well versed in all puranas.

While Ramayana is sublime poetry, Mahabharata is the vigor of the spoken language studded with extensive use of similes, metaphors and symbolic allegories. It portrays the living language of the times with blessings, curses, oaths, sane advise, humour,  ranting , heart wrenching shrieks , sagely preaching etc  conveying every shade of human emotions.

The beauty of its language is in its oral rendering. Even today, groups of devote listeners love to gather around a narrator to listen in divine fervor to the ancient tales the glory of their heroes and heroines, rather than read the epic.

[Incidentally, another explanation for Naimsaranya is the time-less zone of peace: nimisha = unit of time; naimisha = timeless; aranya = a zone free from conflicts (ranya) or a zone of peace]

3.4. Kichaka, the half-brother of Sudeshna the queen of the Matsya king Virata, was also a Suta. In the entire sordid story of Mahabharata, Kichaka perhaps was the only Suta who had his way and who enjoyed his style of life. But, he lost his head, overreached himself and eventually met a rather an ignoble end.

Karna was a Suta-putra, the son of a Suta, which meant he was inferior to  a Suta.

.…And the others

4.1. There were others of a similar class; such as Vaitalikas who called out aloud the hour of the day or night, and also keep track of genealogy (vamsavali-kirtaka); and, the Vandi –Magadhas who recite the glory  , the titles and aceivements of the kings ; herald their arrival into the Royal Court and recite blessings.  Most of them, just as the Sutas, were men of virtue, wisdom and valor; and they served their masters with devotion. They were, however, denied the recognition they deserved, mainly because of their birth antecedents. The ponderous Mahabharata hides in its bosom countless stories of unspoken pain, sorrow and humiliation. That is one of the tragedies of its sordid tale.

4.2. For instance; the blind king Dhritarashtra fathered a son named Yuyutsu, from his servant maid, a Vaishya woman. Yuyutsu was thus technically a mahishya (the son of a Kshatriya father and a vaishya mother); and, he was acknowledged as such in public. He was younger to Duryodhana and elder to Dushyasana; but was snubbed and neglected because he was a mahishyaand not a full-blooded prince. Yuyutsu was the only one, in the crowded court-hall, that had the courage and sanity to disapprove Duryodhana’s heinous behavior and the humiliation meted out to Draupadi, the kula-vadha. And later when the war looked imminent, he pleaded in vain withDuryodhana to make peace with the Pandavas; and to avoid needless bloodshed.  When the war did eventually happen, Yuyutsu chose to fight along with the Pandavas against his step brothers. Yuyutsu was the only Kaurava that survived the internecine bloodbath. Yet, Yuyutsu the  mahishya  could not succeed to the Kaurava throne ; while Arjuna’s grandson Parikshit was made the king of Hasthinapur;  and Krishna’s grandson Vajra was made the king of the other remaining half of the kingdom , Indraprastha . Yuyutsu was made only a prime minister of Indraprastha on the eve of Pandava’s departure from the earthly world.

4.3. You mentioned Vidura. He was not a Suta. He was repeatedly addressed by all as Kshatta; perhaps meaning a kshetraja a son born to a woman from a man (other than the husband) appointed to impregnate her. Vidura’s mother was a servant maid to the queen while his father was Vyasa, a sage. The term Kshatta, centuries later, acquired a totally different meaning in the Artha Sastra, where Kshatta meant a son begotten by a Súdra male from a women of higher caste.

Among the three de-jure sons of Vichitravirya, only Vidura was wise, and sound both in body and mind. He could not however be treated as equal to Pandu and Dhritarashtra born of Kshatriya mothers. Bhishma, the grand-old-man, brought brides from Kshatriya families for Pandu and Dhritarashtra. But for Vidura he got the daughter of king Devaka ‘begotten upon a Sudra wife’. Her name was Parshavya. She was technically an ugra (begotten by a Kshatriya on a Súdra woman). It is said ‘Vidura begot upon her many children like unto himself in accomplishments’. His no other family details are easily available.

Dhritarashtra seemed to have affection towards Vidura, but he ordered him about, and often dismissed him rudely. Vidura was for all purposes a half-brother of the king but could claim neither  right nor respect.

Vidura was a person of great wisdom, he often advised the King even on matters relating to the State. But none of the Kauravas, including the blind king, cared to listen to him or follow his counsel. His role was unenviable and frustrating.  He knew the right way; but had to watch a helpless onlooker  when  everything was going  wrong hurling down  towards death and destruction.

When all his attempts to avoid the war ended in failure, Vidura withdrew from all state affairs, stayed aloof and did not participate in the war . After the end of the ruinous war Vidura out of loyalty and love for his step brother retreated into the forests along with Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and Kunti; and eventually gave up his coils in forest fire.

4.5. Karna was a suta-putra, the son of a Suta, which meant he was below the rank of Suta. Because, Suta was born to a Kashatriya and a Brahman; and the Suta-putra was the offspring of Suta parents. Karna, all his life endured taunts, insults and humiliation for being a Suta-putra. That hurt him grievously.

But it was the rejection and insult thrown in his face by Draupadi, at her swayamvara that hurt him most. Draupadi, yajnaseni the flashing one born out of fire, insisted on being declared a Veeryashulka, a bride to be won by the worthiest and the very best; and she vehemently protested against the lowborn Suta-putra entering the contest.That pain and humiliation burned deep into his soul searing his self esteem. It was like a raw wound that never would heal. Karna later in his life did not let go a slightest opportunity to hurt and humiliate Draupadi.  He shamefacedly participated in the outrage mounted on her modesty. That sowed the seeds of destruction of the Kaurava clan.

Duryodhana treated Karna as a bosom friend. He provided him an identity, recognition and esteem by making him the King of Anga. But, he would not offer him a Kshatriya princess in marriage. Karna was a good friend but he fell short of being a Kinsman.

As the war began, Bhishma the commander-in-chief of the kaurava armies ranked Karna as an Ardha-rathi which was inferior to the ranks of Maha-rathi, Ati-rathi and Rathi.

[A warrior capable of fighting 60,000 warriors simultaneously; having mastery over all forms of weapons and combat skills was termed Maharathi. while a warrior capable of contending with 10,000 warriors simultaneously was an Atirathi].

Though Karna by then was universally recognized as a Maha-rathin, Bhishma degraded him to half of a capable warrior, perhaps just to spite the Sutaja. Karna understandably was deeply hurt and insulted; and he withdrew from the battle till Bhishma fell

Towards the end of the war, Shalya the king of Madra (the maternal uncle of Nakula and Sahadeva) a skilled horseman was tricked by Duryodhana into being Karna’s charioteer. Shalya suppressed his anger at being cheated to act as a charioteer to a Suta-putra; but did upset Karna and dampen his fighting spirit, in order to ensure Karna’s defeat.

The Karna – Shalya rancorous repartee is not in high flowing language and in rather bad taste; it also refers to slang and abusive oaths and cusses of the women of Madra region (Punjab – Sialkot area)-malaṃ pṛthivyā bāhlīkāḥ strīṇāṃ madrastriyo malam – 08,030.068

All those heaps of insults, treachery and conspiracy of fate  did eventually burnt a deep hole in his heart; and he lost the will to live.


5.1. Adhiratha, the foster father of karna, was a Suta. His father was a Kshatriya king and his mother a Brahman. Adhiratha was born of Satyakarma (satkarma) the king of Anga (a region around the present-day Bhagalpur in Bihar) from his Brahman wife.

Who was this Satyakarman or Satyakarma or Satkarma?

5.2. Satyakarma of Chandravamsha (Lunar dynasty) was the son of Dhrtavrata; who was the son of Druthi who in turn was the son of Vijaya. And, Vijaya was the son of Bruhanmana from his second wife Satya. Bruhanmana was the son of Jayadratha by his wife Sambhuti.

The Ninth Canto, Twenty-third Chapter, of the Srimad-Bhagavata, entitled “The Dynasties of the Sons of Yayati” provides a very long list of names tracing Satkarma to Yayathi.

5.2. “The Encyclopedic Dictionary of Puranas” by Parmeshwaranand Swami, in a relatively brief form traces the genealogy of Sathyakarman to the ancient King Yayathi:

Yayathi – Anudruhya –Sabhanara – Kalanara – Srnjaya – Titiksha – Kasadhrta – Homa – Sutapas.

From Sutapas and his wife Sateshna was born Bali who had seven sons: Anga, Kalinga, Sushma, Kandra, Vanga, Adrupa and Anasbhu.

Anga was the progenitor of a linage. To Anga were born several sons including the following: Dadhivrata, Raviratha, Dharmaratha, Chitraratha, Sathyaratha, Lomapada, Chaturanga, Pruthu, Haryanga and Bhadraratha.

Bhadraratha had following sons:    Jayadratha, Bhadramanas, Vijaya, Dhruthi, Dhartavrata and Satyakarman.

Satyakarman was the father of Adhiratha who was the foster father of Karna; and Karna was the father of Vrasasena.

5.3. It appears that Satyakarma had sons by his Kshatriya wife; and they succeeded him as kings of Anga. His other son Adhiratha begotten from his Brahman wife was a Suta who, as per the tradition, became a charioteer. It is likely that Adhiratha was at one time in the employ of king Dhritharastra of Hasthinapur, as his charioteer.

5.4. Adhiratha (at times called Surasena) was married to Radha, another Suta offspring. At the time Adhiratha and Radha found the baby- Karna in a box set adrift on the Ganga, they had no children, yet. But, after he and Radha adopted Karna as their son, they were blessed with four sons: Shatruntapa, Dhruma, Vrtharatha and Vipata.

In the later years, Shatruntapa died at the hands of Arjuna during the Uttrara-go-grahana misadventure on the outskirts of the Viratanagara the capital of Matsya Desha. The other three died in the Kurukshetra war during the days when Acharya Drona was commanding the Kaurava forces. Dhruma and Vrtharatha were killed by Bhima; and Vipata was killed by Arjuna.

[I did not come across a connection between Vidura and his wife with Adhiratha and his wife Radha.

Vidura’s wife was Parasavya; and Adhiratha’s wife as you said was Radha.

Adhiratha was a Suta while Vidura was a kshatta born of Sudra woman from Vyasa. Vidura was also said to be a kshetraja one born of a male appointed to impregnate the female.

The name Adhiratha is not to be mistaken for the term Ati-rathin a classification of warriors based on their supposed capabilities and valour. ]


6. Biographic details of Karna

6.1. The biographic details of karna are interspersed in bits and pieces at four different places in the Mahabharata : in Adi-Parva – SECTION CXI (Sambhava Parva);  in Vana Parva from SECTION CCCI to SECTION CCCVIII ;in Udyoga Parva SECTION CXLI ; and , in :SANTI PARVA – SECTION I  through to SECTION VI.[The references relate to sections in  Shri Kesari Mohan Ganguli’s monumental translation The Mahabharata of Krishna-dwaipayana Vyasa]

6.2. The first reference briefly mentions the birth antecedents and infancy of Karna. The second one in Vana Parva which follows Karna’s dream-conversation with Surya, his parent, warning against hoax requests exploiting his generosity is fairly detailed .It covers the early story of Kunti (Prutha) too: about her maidenhood in the household of Kuntibhoja her foster parent; serving the irascible sage Durvasa; helpless encounter with the Sun god; begetting out-of-wedlock a most wonderful looking adorable bright son, and out of sheer shame and fear of sullying the fair-name of her family, tearfully abandoning her firstborn setting him adrift the Aswa River. The narration continues along with the casket carrying the new born floating along the Aswa River then on to the Charmanvati (Chambal), the Yamuna and finally joining the River Ganga where Adhiratha and his wife Radha find the baby, joyously bring the little boy home, name him as Vasusena and bring him up most lovingly.  Kunti, all the time, through her spies keeps track of her son growing up in the Sutha family. In this section, it is said,   Adhiratha the foster father later sends Karna to Hastnapur for education under the famous teacher Drona. The story in this section concludes with Karna gifting away his invincible Kavacha (shield) and Kundala (earrings) to Indra in disguise, despite Surya‘s warning and sane counsel…

the election of Karn by Mukesh singh

the election of Karn by Mukesh singh

6.3. The third narration which occurs in Udyoga Parva is a brief one , wherein Karna in conversation with Krishna , who tried to entice him,   reminiscences his early childhood lovingly enveloped in the care and affection of the Suta family and particularly of his mother Radha. He fondly recalls his early upbringing and education provided by his foster family: “When also I attained to youth, I married wives according to his selections. Through them have been born my sons and grandsons, O Janardana. My heart also, O Krishna, and all the bonds of affection and love, are fixed on them. From joy or fear. O Govinda. I cannot venture to destroy those bonds even for the sake of the whole earth or heaps of gold. “

It was a very mature, restrained and almost a sagely reply. He speaks with a great sense of responsibility and commitment to his values in life, hiding    his deep sense of sorrow and betrayal behind calm courage that almost borders on suicidal detachment.

6.4. The fourth narration in Shanthi Parva occurs after the death of Karna. This occurs at the commencement of Shanthi Parva soon after the conclusion of the internecine bloodbath at the Kurukshetra war.   Yudhistira   on learning from Kunti, Karna’s identity is distraught and heartbroken. He laments over the cruelty and irony of fate that conspired forcing him to kill his elder brother Karna for the sake of reclaiming the lost kingdom. “I desire to hear everything from thee, O holy one!’ he cried out in anguish. At the request of Yudhistira, Sage Narada recounts the tale of Karna from his birth, childhood, education and his deeds and misdeeds in company of his friend and benefactor Duryodhana.  This narration covers a little more ground than the earlier two; and also speaks of Karna’s adult life in service of Duryodhana. Narada explains the wrongs that Karna committed were prompted by his sense of abandonment, loneliness, bitterness and envy of the Pandavas particularly of his rival and challenger Arjuna.

It is this section which mentions that Karna in his early tutelage with Drona approaches the teacher (Drona), in private, requesting to be taught the secret of “the Brahma weapon, with all its mantras and the power of withdrawing it”, for he desired to fight Arjuna. Drona of course promptly refuses saying ‘None but a Brahmana, who has duly observed all vows, should be acquainted with the Brahma weapon, or a Kshatriya that has practiced austere penances, and no other.’ Thereafter Karna promptly takes leave of Drona and proceeded without delay to Parasurama then residing on the Mahendra mountains introducing himself as ‘I am a Brahmana of Bhrigu’s race.’ Karna thereafter spent perhaps the happiest days of his life acquiring all the knowledge, skills and all the weapons; becoming a great favorite of his teacher, the gods, the Gandharvas, and the Rakshasas. That happiness was short-lived. Soon two tragedies and two curses struck him. Please check for details the links provided above.

[The Karna – Parasurama episode could obviously have occurred between the period of Karna’s early education with Drona (at the instance of Adhiratha the foster parent of Karna) and the game-show at Hastinapura at which the bright and belligerent Karna was anointed the King of the Anga province. Towards the end of the game-show Adiratha enters the arena and blesses his son Karna; and the whole world thereafter comes to recognize Karna as the son of Adhiratha the Suta.

Karna’s education with Parasurama was apparently before he was appointed the King of Anga-Desha and not later. Because, after that happening there was no way that Karna famed as the friend and confidant of the prince of Hastinapura could have gone to Parasurama in undercover calling himself as ‘I am a Brahmana of Bhrigu’s race.’]

Karna – your questions

7.1. The childless couple Adhiratha and Radha found the enchanting baby Karna in a box filled with gold-jewels, drifting on the waves of the Ganga. They were overwhelmed with joy and adopted the new found baby as their son.

Adhiratha took away the box from the water-side, and opened it by means of instruments. And then he beheld a boy resembling the morning Sun. And the infant was furnished with golden mail, and looked exceedingly beautiful with a face decked in ear-rings. And thereupon the charioteer, together with his wife, was struck with such astonishment that their eyes expanded in wonder. And taking the infant on his lap, Adhiratha said unto his wife, ‘Ever since I was born, O timid lady, I had never seen such a wonder. This child that hath come to us must be of celestial birth. Surely, sonless as I am, it is the gods that have sent him unto me!’

And after Karna’s adoption, Adhiratha had other sons begotten by himself. And seeing the child furnished with bright mail and golden ear-rings, the twice-born ones named him Vasusena. And thus did that child endued with great splendour and immeasurable prowess became the son of the charioteer, and came to be known as Vasusena and Vrisha. ]

7.2. Karna recounts to Krishna (in Udyoga-parva) his early child hood. He speaks with great warmth about his foster parents; fondly recalling the love they showered on him narrates how they doted on him,  how they brought him up in the Suta tradition and how they got him married to a Suta bride.

As soon as he beheld me, took me to his home, and from her affection for me, Radha’s breasts were filled with milk that very day, and she cleansed my urine and evacuations.

So also Adhiratha of the Suta class regardeth me as a son, and I too, from affection, always regard him as (my) father.

Adhiratha from paternal affection caused all the rites of infancy to be performed on my person, according to the rules prescribed in the scriptures. It is that Adhiratha, again, who caused the name Vasusena to be bestowed upon me by the Brahmanas.

When I attained to youth, I married wives according to his selections.

All my family rites and marriage rites have been performed with the Sutas.

[ ]

Karna retained loyalty and loving relationship with his foster parents till his death.

7.3. He was initially named Vasusena as he was found with ornaments of gold. He was Karna because he was adorned with most precious and glowing ear-ornaments. His other names were: Radheya (the son of Radha, his foster mother); Vrisha; Vrikartana (the Sun); Bhanuja (Sun’s son); Goputra; Vaikarttana (because he gave away the kavacha and earrings he was born with); Angaraja (the king of Anga); Champadhipa (king of Champa, a region along the banks of the Ganga). And of course he was also called Sutaputra,; Sutaja; Kanina( one born to a Kanya an unmarried girl); and Bhishma deliberately insulted Karna by labeling him an Ardha-rathi , one who has  only half the fighting  capacity of a valiant warrior. That was the unkindest cut of all.

7.4. Karna’s wife is named as Vrushali, a Suta (The names such as Prabhavathi and Supriya are also mentioned as the other wives of Karna, But, Kesari Mohan Ganguli’s monumental translation “The Mahabharata of Krishna-dwaipayana Vyasa” does not seem to mention those names).It is very likely that Karna had more than one wife. Karna mentioned to Krishna: “When I attained to youth, I married wives according to his (Adhiratha) selections”.

7.5. As regards his sons, Karna had several sons and the names of nine of his sons are mentioned. Of the nine, only one survived the Kurukshetra war.

Vrasasena; Sudhama; Shatrunjaya; Dvipata; Sushena; Satyasea; Chitrasena; Susharma(Banasena); and Vrishakethu .

Sudhama died in the melee that followed Draupadi’s swayamvara. Shatrunjaya and Dvipata died in the Kurukshetra war at the hands of Arjuna during the days when Drona commanded the Kaurava forces. Sushena was killed in the war by Bhima. Satyasena, Chitrasena and Susharma died in the hands of Nakula. Karna’s eldest son Vrasasena died during the last days of the war when Karna was the commanded the battle forces. Vrasasena was killed by Arjuna.

Vrushasena’s death is described in all its gruesome detail:

Arjuna rubbed the string of his bow and took aim at Vrishasena in that battle, and sped, O king, a number of shafts for the slaughter of Karna’s son. The diadem-decked Arjuna then, fearlessly and with great force, pierced Vrishasena with ten shafts in all his vital limbs. With four fierce razor-headed arrows he cut off Vrishasena’s bow and two arms and head. Struck with Partha’s shafts, the son of Karna, deprived of arms and head, fell down on the earth from his car, like a gigantic shala adorned with flowers falling down from a mountain summit. Beholding his son, thus struck with arrows, fall down from his vehicle, the Suta’s son Karna, endued with great activity and scorched with grief on account of the death of his son, quickly proceeded on his car, inspired with wrath, against the car of the diadem-decked Partha.

Some versions mention that a son of Karna died in the battle with Abhimanyu. But, his name is not given.

Vrishakethu was the only son of Karna that survived the horrific slaughter called Kurukshetra war. He later came under the patronage of the Pandavas. During the campaign that preceded the Ashvamedha –yaga, Vrishakethu accompanied Arjuna and participated in the battles with Sudhava and Babruvahana. During that campaign Vrishakethu married the daughter of king Yavanatha (perhaps a king of the western regions).  It is said, Arjuna developed great affection for Vrishakethu, his nephew.


wedding of vrushakethu


76. As regards Karna’s tragic end, so much has been written about those heart wrenching scenes; one can hardly say any more. To put it simply:

The seventeenth day of the war began fairly well for Karna. In the early part of the day, Karna defeated Bhima and Yudhisthira, but spared their lives. Later in the day Karna resumed his duel with Arjuna. During their duel, Karna’s chariot wheel got struck in the mud and Karna asked for a pause. Krishna reminded Arjuna about Karna’s ruthlessness unto Abhimanyu while he was similarly stranded without chariot and weapons. Hearing his son’s fate, the enraged Arjuna shot his arrow and decapitated Karna.

7.7. All his life, Karna carried in his heart the searing raw wound of unrecognized greatness. The many insults and humiliations he had to endure were because of his supposedly low birth. That led him to a quest for recognition and respect from his fellow beings as the mightiest Kshatriya of his times.  His feats of great heroism, his bitter rivalry with Arjuna were fueled mainly by that ambition. “I was born for valour; I was born to achieve glory” (43.6). Karna was the blazing but the sinking Sun among the dark clouds of the Kauravas.

Vyasa mourns Karna: “The arrow raved Karna-Sun, after scorching its enemies, was forced to set by valiant Arjuna –kala” (91.62)

Kunti  praises her first-born, her dead son as “A hero, ear-ringed, armored, and splendid like the Sun”; ”He was all dazzle like molten gold , like fire , like the Sun”; “ To whoever asked he gave, he never said no..Always the giver” (09,004.034)

a śūrāṇām āryavṛttānāṃ saṃgrāmeṣv anivartinām /  dhīmatāṃ satyasaṃdhānāṃ sarveṣāṃ kratuyājinām //09,004.034 //

7.8. The lives of the Sutas and of the similar other ones are filled with unspoken pain and neglect. When you come to think of it, you realize that none of the major characters – men and women even of royal blood – had a happy and peaceful life. Their lives too were filled with struggle, sorrow and frustration. Each one – virtuous or otherwise- was disillusioned, in the end.

7.9. Vyasa concludes the epic imploring all humans to adhere to Dharma and to practice Dharma. And, for some reason, the Great Vyasa in desperation pours out his frustration, screaming aloud:

“With raised hands, I shout at the top of my voice; but alas, no one hears my words which can give them Supreme Peace, Joy and Eternal Bliss. One can attain wealth and all objects of desire through Dharma (righteousness). Why do not people practice Dharma? One should not abandon Dharma at any cost, even at the risk of his life. One should not relinquish Dharma out of passion or fear or covetousness or for the sake of preserving one’s life….”   

ūrdhvabāhur viraumy eṣa na ca kaś cic chṛṇoti me / dharmād arthaś ca kāmaś ca sa kimarthaṃ na sevyate /  na jātu kāmān na bhayān na lobhād; dharmaṃ tyajej jīvitasyāpi hetoḥ/  nityo dharmaḥ sukhaduḥkhe tv anitye; jīvo nityo hetur asya tv anityaḥ – MBh. 8,005.049-50

vyasa with raised hands


Trust this helps. .Please let me know. Regards

References and sources:

The Mahabharata of Krishna-dwaipayana Vyasa  by Shri Kesari Mohan Ganguli

Purana Bharata Kosha by shri Yagnanarayana Udupa

The Encyclopedic Dictionary of Puranas by   Parmeshwaranand Swami

The Mahabharata of Vyasa By Prof. P. Lal

 Pictures are from internet


Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Mahabharata


Tags: , , ,

Greek comedies, Sanskrit drama and Bollywood

This follows a discussion we (a bunch of old goats) had on the ancient drama forms , which led to the question why there are no well known Greek comedies and why there are not many “ Tragedies” in the Indian theatre.


1. The Greek tragedies are of course unsurpassed in their grandeur and in depiction of the failings of the mighty. They are the inspirations for countless works of merit in all other languages.

Before going into the their Dramas ; it appears to me that the ancient Greeks were a rather inward looking people and did not interact with other cultures in their (other’s) terms. You do not come across many instances of ancient Greeks learning the language of the Egyptians, Persians or the Indians. They preferred to look at the world through the Greek prism and turned everything around into a Greek term or a Greek name or Greek pronunciation.

Even, during the times (ca. 500 BCE) when Greece was a part of the Persian Empire and when large number of Greeks served the Empire as its officials , it appears they transacted in Greek and  not in the language of Persia. For instance Ktesias who served the Persian king Artaxerxes Mnemon (404–358 B.C.) as his personal physician for eight years (405-397 B.C.) mentioned that he invariably wrote and transacted in Greek language. The two books he authored on the events in Persia (Persika), and the events in India (Indika) were in Greek. Similarly, Skylax of Karyanda who served as a naval commander in the army of the Persian Emperor Darius Hystargus (512–486 BCE) also managed in Greek.

Old comedies of Greece

2.1. The Greek tragedies are of course widely appreciated the world over. But, what is commonly not known is that the so-called “old comedy” was in fact the favorite entertainment of the common Greeks. It is not that the ancient Greeks loved only tragedies and nothing else. The Greek people witnessed the vicissitudes of life as any other people of those times; and loved all forms of drama. It is just that the Greek tragedies travelled abroad, in translations, and gained great fame.

2.2. The ‘old comedy’ was more popular among common Greeks. The comic plays were performed at the village festivals with jovial gaiety and jesting license in honor of Dionysus the god of wine and fertility. The comedies were    mostly vulgar ballets with male actors wearing masks and gaudy costumes enacting indecent farce and satire about phallic jokes. Sometimes, young fellows disguised grossly as beasts or birds broke out into riotous phallic dances.


2.3. It was however later during the times of Menander, the first of the great writers of Greek comedy, and Aristophanes (between about 456 BCE and 380 BCE) that Greek comedy gained some credibility. It is said that the comic playwrights produced their works for dramatic competitions at two festivals in honour of  Dionysus Lenaius held in the cities Dionysian (in March) and the Lenaea (in January), on the same stage as the tragedies.


Aristophanes and Menander
2.4. At these festivals, comedies were more important and popular than tragedies. It is said, at least five comedies entered the competition each year (except during the Peloponnesian war when only three comedies were performed). The comedies included singing and dancing performances of Dithyramb (hymns in honor of the god of wine Dionysus). It is not clear when these festivals were abandoned; but it is believed the competitions at Lenaea continued into the second century BCE.

Attic relief (4th century BCE) depicts a qulos player and his family standing before Dionysus and a female consort, with theatrical masks displayed above.

Aristophanes and the comedies

3.1. Aristophanes, I reckon , was a sort of stand-up comedian of his times. His performances were packed with pungent political satire and abundance of sexual and vulgar innuendo. He was also fond of drinks ; and, used to say at his performances  : Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever. 

He was adept in stringing together several words into a long unpronounceable compound word that confounded the listeners .

“In my opinion,” he said , “producing comedies is the hardest work of all.”

” How many are the things that vex my heart! Pleasures are few, so very few – just four -“

Aristophanes lampooned the most important personalities and institutions of his day. His ridicule was feared by influential contemporaries. Talking about the politicians of the day, he said ” “You cannot teach a crab to walk straight. Under every stone lurks a politician” . 

He described the Characteristics of a popular politician as : a horrible voice, bad breeding, and a vulgar manner. “Politics, these days, is no occupation for an educated man, a man of character. Ignorance and total lousiness are better.”

But , “Ignorance can be cured; but,  stupidity is forever”. 

‘Look at the orators in our republics; as long as they are poor, both state and people can only praise their uprightness; but once they are fattened on the public funds, they conceive a hatred for justice, plan intrigues against the people and attack the democracy.’

You [demagogues] are like the fishers for eels; in still waters they catch nothing, but if they thoroughly stir up the slime, their fishing is good; in the same way it’s only in troubled times that you line your pockets.’

He quipped : “they looked like rascals when seen from the heavens and, seen up close, they look even worse”.

And , when Amynias who had lost money in gambling was appointed ambassador, Aristophanes sang:

Way up there in Thessaly /  Home of the poor Penestes/ Happy to be where everyone/Is as penniless as he is.


3.2. Plato, as all know, was a studious philosopher. But, his favorite dramatist was Aristophanes, the writer of comedies. Plato, it is said, endorsed to his friends the comedies of Aristophanes. Plato, in his Symposium, made Aristophanes deliver a discourse on love, which the latter explained in a sensual manner. Aristophanes, in his work The Clouds, ridiculed Socrates; and, in his lyrical-burlesque The Frogs, he lampooned Euripides. Yet, Aristophanes was well regarded; and, his plays were very popular.

3.3. The ‘old comedy’ survives today in the form of about eleven plays of Aristophanes. The later historians described those plays as ‘the last of the great species of poetry Greece gave to the world’.

3.4. The philosopher Aristotle (c.335 BCE) was, however, not much amused by the antics of the ‘old comedies’. He wrote in his Poetics that those plays were representations of laughable people, their blunders and their ugliness. He softened the blow by adding that the comedies did not however cause pain or disaster.

3.5. If the Greek tragedies notably of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides are better known and admired world over, it was because of their superior script, treatment of the subject and the conflict they depict between the human will and the Greek idea of fate. Had the conflict been between the will of two humans it would have turned the play into a social drama or even a comedy. [Perhaps, it is  here the genius of Shakespeare shines forth].

The ancient Sanskrit drama

4.1. The ancient Indians did not consider catharsis as a legitimate purpose of a play. The tragic plays did not flourish as they did in Greece or in England. The reasons for this are many.

But, the prime objective of a Drama was considered to be to  provide wholesome entertainment (ananda) . Dhananjaya, in his Dasarupaka,  taunts; and mocks at one who naively believes that Drama, like history (itihasa), is there only to give knowledge. He wryly remarks ‘ I salute  (tasmai namah) that simpleton  (alpabuddhih) who has averted his face from what is delightful ..!’

anandanisyandisu rupakesu / vyutpattimatram phalam alpabuddhih/ yo ‘pitihasadivad aha sadhus/  tasmai namah svaduparah mukhaya//DR.1.6//

Much earlier to that; Bharatha, in a way, had summed up the virtues and merits of Nataka , a dramatic work that captivates the hearts of the spectators and brings glory to its playwright , producer and the actors .

The work of art that satisfies all classes of spectators ; and is a happy and enjoyable composition, which is graceful on account of being  adorned with sweet and elegant words; free from obsolete and obscure meaningless verbose ; easily grasped and understood by the common people ; skillfully arranged ; interspersed with delightful songs and dances; and,  systematically  displaying varied types of sentiments  in its plot devised into Acts, scenes, junctures etc.

mdu-lalita-padārtha gūha-śabdārtha-hīna ;   budha jana sukha bhogya,  yuktiman – ntta-yogyam  bahu rasa kta mārga , sandhi-sandhāna-yukta  bhavati  jagati  yogyaaka  prekakāām  16.130

That does not mean that the Sanskrit Dramas were all about fun and laughter; nor were they tales of sorrow. The Rupaka, is a fine combination of the two; as it reveals the sorrow as well as pleasure in proper perspective.

Bharatha explains: when the nature of the world, possessing pleasure and pain both, is depicted by means of representations through speech, songs, gestures , music and other (such as, costume, makeup, ornaments etc ) it is called Natya. (NS 1.119)

yo’ya  svabhāvo lokasya sukha dukha samanvita  som gādya abhinaya ityopeto nātyam ity abhidhīyate  119

Thus, according to Bharatha, the Drama is but a reflection or a representation of the actions of Men of various natures (Prakrti) –avastha-anikrtir natyam . That is to say; the Drama, in its various forms of art, poetry etc., strives to depict the infinite variety of human characters.

A Rupaka is that which delights and gladdens the hearts of the Sahrudya, without shaking their moral fiber. Its characters might, momentarily, be tempted by an illusory wickedness; but, eventually the goodness triumphs.

In Indian Dramas, characters like Karna, Rama, Hariscandra, Sakuntala, Sita or Draupadl face severe adversities in their life; and, no one thinks of putting an immediate end to their miseries by terminating their life. They face the adversities with courage and confidence.

The principal characters  are  not caught on the horns of a moral dilemma – ‘To be or not to be’– ; they impulsively are rooted in the accepted norm of their Dharma, depending upon the stage and their standing or status in life – as the son, friend, King or Wife etc. The conflict is not always between a good and an evil; but, often between a good and another good. The heroes and heroines always choose what they deem to be the greater-good, in the larger interest.

Unlike in the Greek tragedies, the Nayakas and Nayikas of a Rupaka are neither daunted by the fear of death; nor are they confronted by an obscure Fate in an unequal battle. In fact, not many seem to blame the Fate as the cause of their strife and struggles. Interestingly, the concept of fate is a rather late entry into to the Indian ethos. (For more on that, please check here.)

The evil, if any, was personified as Ravana, Shakuni or Shakara (btw, Shakara, the villain who also provides comic relief, later turned into a sort of role-model in the Indian movies). They are deemed evil because they shake ones faith in goodness and in the very roots of life. Apart from these, there are not many truly evil characters, acting as unprovoked malign agencies wrecking havoc.

For instance; the ever impatient irascible Durvasa who hurls a curse, causing the separation of Dushyanta and his Love Shakuntala, is not an antagonist. In fact , he is external to the story-line. Similar is the case with the impulsive Sage Vishvamitra, the cause for the dethronement and exile of Harishchandra. But,  towards the end , their curses are amply compensated by generous boons.

sanskrit drama


4.2. The ancient Sanskrit drama  distinguished one form of drama (Rupaka)  from its other forms  on the basis of its Vastu (subject-matter), Neta (Hero) and Rasa (sentiment) – vastu neta rasas tesam bhedako .

It did not recognize classification based on how the drama ended, on whether the characters lived happily ever after or whether the characters struggled in vain against almost impossible odds and eventually failed. There is no clear classification of happy or sad ending.

For instance, the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata end in a somber note; the evil undoubtedly was vanquished in the end, but the virtuous victors were neither jubilant nor were they at peace. It is not a tragic ending in the sense the evil did not triumph; and it is not a comic ending either because the heroes did not seem to have ‘lived happily ever after’. Rama, Krishna and Pandavas, all ended their earthly sojourn on a rather solemn note; and, returned to their heavenly abode.

Even after winning the Great War, Yudhisthira is not happy; for, none could enjoy the fruits of his victory; the death had cast its shadow everywhere. There was no joy.

Krishna, the incarnate of the Divine, died of a hunter’s arrow. And, the whole of his clan was drowned in a Tsunami. Even the sinless (Parama-pavani) Sita, the ideal of womanhood, finally disappears into the depths of mother-earth; as if returning Home. And, she never unites with her husband again. Rama spends his later years in loneliness.

And, all those fabulous characters were on the side that won the wars.

4.3. The struggle depicted in the ancient dramas, based on the epics, was not about a person’s comfort; but, it was about what they stood for and the values they represented. The pith of the story was in the manner the virtuous men and women faced their adversaries and adversities, within the frame work of Dharma; and, finally triumphed after sustained fighting. At the end, it was hailed as the triumph of the Dharma.

The object of the play was to demonstrate the proper way to live; a way which the generations to come can follow and adopt as a benchmark or a norm of attitude and behavior , while grappling with the conflicts confronting them in their lives.

4.4. It also had to do with the perception of life in general. One’s view of death is related to what one regards as life. One way of looking at death is as a dreaded terminator, which irrevocably puts an end to ones relation with all existence. There are however beliefs that prefer to treat “life” not as an interval between two extremities; but, as a continuum in space and time; and, that space could be elsewhere and not necessarily here on earth.

4.5. The life jivita on this earth, according to their beliefs, is a continuum propelled by causes and effects (karman) spread over several jivitas. The disappointments and miseries that one has endured in this life can be put behind; and, one can always look forward with hope. There is no “End” or “Finis” to life.

Take for instance; Banabhatta’s classic novel Kadambari (c.seventh century) re-rendered by Ms. Kalpita Raj as PunarmilanThe reunion… (Love-story From Ancient India) , a torturous love story filled with frustrations , disappointments and failures as each character passionately strives for love. The story spills into three re-births; and finally love triumphs. It is perhaps a way of saying that love defies death. In fact, it is the persistence of love through a series of re-births that holds the story together.


In all these cases, the Death is viewed only as a temporary phase in the continuous life of man. If a person suffers, his suffering is on account of his misdeeds or sins in his previous life. Such suffering is a means to test  man’s character and his integrity. There is nothing disastrous about  it.

The theme of tragic suffering is not excluded from the story-line; but only a tragic closure or the ending is avoided . No one turned his back on the tragic experiences in life , as also in Drama. Sanskrit poets were not escapists. They depicted all tragic elements in life; but, softened it with the experience of happiness.

By rejecting death as the ultimate end, the significance of sorrow, suffering and confrontation with the evil in life, are reduced in their magnitude and in their effect to cause irrevocable harm.

Here, in all such cases, the Tragedy raises the question of the ultimate meaning of human existence; and, its resilience to fight back adversities. Most of the Indian Dramas  deal with the set of similar problem.

The central idea of Greek Tragedy is that man learns through suffering; and, it is through suffering that he becomes modest and humble. Man realizes the futility of ambitions and accepts his own insignificance. But before he learns this lesson, he has to pay heavily for it; having done that he becomes a nobler and purer soul. That is precisely what happens in Urubhanga also.

The heroes and heroines of the Sanskrit Dramas, placed within their limited confines battle extraordinary situations with courage and conviction; but, finally , they emerge out of the ordeal with composure and dignity, though a bit bruised .

Though we do not have technical tragedies , in the Western sense, we have serious tragic situations in our literature, where man is at grips with adversities; as also with the  inter-play of characters and circumstances . But, here again , the Good eventually triumphs.

This is the Indian way or approach to life; whereas, the Western approach to life is altogether different; and, when they face severe complexities in their life, they think of putting an end to their life. For them death is the liberation from the serious problems of life. Perhaps, this difference in outlook towards life is one of the main reasons for the happy-ending in Sanskrit dramas.


4.6. The ancient Sanskrit plays generally portray four categories of heroes: dhirodatta (ideal person like Rama); dhiralalitha (lover boy like Dushyantha); dhirashanta (calm and collected like Charudutta); and dhirodhhata (the tragic hero like Ravana, Duryodhana or Karna).

The tragic hero is endowed with all virtues such as good looks, wealth, strength and power;  but, is afflicted with a single gnawing flaw in his character, which brings about his ruin.

For instance; Ravana with lust; Duryodhana with greed and jealousy; Karna with embitterment were the classic examples. The tragic hero is all the while aware of his tragic flaw; he fights with himself; nevertheless, embraces his fate, death and destruction in a strange mixture of detachment and bravado.

He is heroic in most ways and he is very important to the play; but, he is a counterpoint to the hero. And, In Sanskrit drama, the good always triumphs over the evil.

It was Bhasa the celebrated playwright (ca. 2nd century BCE to 2nd century AD) who in his plays uru-bhanga and karna-bhara treated Duryodhana and Karna with great sympathy and appreciation. Bhasa was the first to break away from the conventions of Natyasastra to show physical violence on the stage; and to end his plays in pathos and in the death of his heroes. In his prathima-natakam he treats Kaikeyi, the deluded queen of the old king, with sympathy and understanding. Bhasa was the first significant Indian writer of what you might call the tragic plays.


4.7. Coming back to the question of tragic plays, There is no unhappy ending in Sanskrit Natakas; and, that is why most of the commentators say  that no tragedy has been written in Sanskrit drama.There is a faith that  Good is bound to triumph ; Truth will survive and last long. Suffering is not the final end of life. That is perhaps why we do not have tragedies.


Perhaps, a major Sanskrit Drama that could have been turned into a Tragedy is Bhavabhuthi’s Uttara-Rama-Charitra, narrating the woes, sufferings and separation of Rama and Sita. Such an unfortunate situation rudely befalls them after they had gone through an acutely distressing  life of exile, separation and battles; and, when they were just about to settle down to a peaceful , normal conjugal life. 

This cruel blow is struck, when a washer man flippantly comments about the plausible infidelity of Sita, during her confinement in Ravana’s garden. The then social norm demands that Rama should send Sita away; and, he promptly dispatches the pregnant Sita far away into the woods. And, what follows thereafter is bitter agonizing suffering for both. Vasanti, the presiding deity of the forests, rebukes Rama for having abandoned Sita; and, Rama becomes remorseful and experiences untold agony.

Over the centuries, many have been troubled by the strange exit of the unhappy Sita from her life .

Bhavabhuthi questions, and cries out ‘why?’: How could Rama ever think of abandoning such a wife as Sita? And, having abandoned her for whatever reason, how could they be again united in any real sense until all clouds, all vestiges of doubt and distrust, had been entirely banished from their minds ?

If Rama’s moral conflict had been between his kingly duties and his love for his wife; and , had it been kept as the central theme; and, if the  play had  been based upon it; and, if the banishment of Sita, after much inward struggle , suffering, had come toward the end of the play, we might then have had a worthy tragedy .

Apparently, Bhavabhuthi was not satisfied with such inadequate motivation: he was not content to bring, somehow, the estranged pair together; and then leave them to settle their causes of dispute later amicably or otherwise.

He felt that a reunion, to be meaningful, must first be a reunion of hearts; and this was the psychological problem which he deliberately proposed to himself in this play; especially, in the first three Acts. The complicated chain of events leading to the actual reunion and the recognition of the princes forms the burden of the last four Acts

Remarkably, Bhavabhuti’s major concern in his play, is the healing of Sita’s mind and bruised heart. Her doubts about Rama’s love and her anger at the repudiation have to disappear. Her own capacity for love, benumbed by her long suffering has to be revived before any reconciliation with honor is possible. Only then would justice be rendered to Sita,  and to all Indian womanhood.

The play ends on a happy note.


Similarly,  some of the Sanskrit plays like Vikramorvasiya of Kalidasa ; Nagananda of Harsha; Malatimadhava of Bhavabhuthi;  etc. could have been rendered as  tragedies , had their authors followed the original story line. Instead, they preferred to slightly re-adjust the scene; and, altered the endings.

Let us take, for example, the Vikramorvasiya of Kalidasa. Although he had a fine tragic plot ready  for his poetic touch, in order to avoid the tragedy; and, to arrive at an assured  happy conclusion, Kalidasa  greatly changed the original story of  Urvasi and King Pururavas. In the original , they were allowed  to remain together so long as the King did not behold the son to be borne to him by Urvasi.

Kalidasa changed the story ; and lowered the heroine from her celestial status into a mortal; and, allowed her to live happily with her Lover and her child.

Had Kalidasa  followed the original story-line, in the last scene, king would have been placed  in a tragic conflict of emotion between his joy of  beholding, for the first time, his son and heir; and, his agony of sorrow at the loss of Urvasi,  resulting from the sight of this same child.


Similarly, the Nagananda of Harsha could quickly  have been  transformed into a tragedy by altering some of the lighter scenes slightly and eliminating the intervention of the gods at the end. Had not  Jimutavahana been  restored to life, the play would  not only have been more tragic; but it would also have been more artistic. A fine contrast could have been made between the hero’s love for his bride and his devotion to what he felt to be his compelling duty. The hero would have sacrificed his life willingly for the greater good.


If we take away the last Act or scene of these plays, they could certainly become good examples of Tragedies, in a formal or technical sense.

But, perhaps , due to certain established traditions of the  Sanskrit dramatic theory and practices ; the outlook which mold the life and attitudes of people; the response of the audience;  the outlook of the Sanskrit dramatists , and, of the  producers of the plays,  these dramas were converted  into ‘happy-endings’.

The study of tragic consciousness in Sanskrit drama is a fascinating problem from the literary and aesthetic point of view. ‘Tragedy,‘ basically, is a western concept; and, therefore, it has to be viewed in the framework of the Aristotelian aesthetics. However, the tragic consciousness (Karuna) is a universal notion and sentiment; and, it can be traced in the classical Sanskrit drama and aesthetics , as well.

The Indian scholars opine that  a drama, which above all, embodies Karuna Rasa or the sentiment of pathos is essentially a Tragedy , in as much as it excites the feelings of pity and terror, which according to Aristotle are the essence of tragedy.

Bhavabhuthi considers Karuna as the only sentiment; and, all other sentiments as  its different forms (Eko Rasaha Karuna eva nimita bhedam bhinna pruthak pruthavashrayate vivartan). This Karuna or, pathetic sentiment is the basis of tragedy.

And, there is abundance of Karuna Rasa in the Sanskrit Dramas; and, has been a source  of aesthetic enjoyment for  the Sahrudayas. There is a close relationship between tragedy and tragic consciousness (Karunya).

In fact, the Ramayana Epic commences with a poignant note, when the poet Valmiki cries out, empathizing (Karunyam) with the pain and the mournful lament of the Kranunchi bird, whose mate had just been shot down by a hunter’s arrow. Valmiki gives voice to the inarticulate painful, heart wrenching shrill of the mourning female bird. That Karunya permeates the Epic throughout.

Anandavardhana says, the sorrow (Shoka) of the First Poet, which arose out of the separation of the couple of the krauncha birds, took the form of a verse (Shloka).

Kavyasyatma sa evarthas tatha cadikaveh pura/ Kraunca dvandva viyogottha sokah slokatvamagatah (Dhyanyaloka.1.5)

Abhinavgupta explains; the Shoka which took the form of Shloka is the sthayibhava of karuna-Rasa that was experienced by the Adi Kavi Valmiki. And, that sorrow is not to be taken merely as the personal sorrow of the sage-poet (na tu muneh soka iti mantavyam); but , it belongs to the Muni and the bird alike; and, indeed, it is also the generalized (Sadharinikarana) or the universal form of sorrow that is experienced  by the aesthetes (Sahrudaya) of all the generations.


5.1. Though the Sanskrit plays are virtually dead in India, they live and thrive in the spirit of the Indian movies, popularly labelled as Bollywood movies.

5.2. In the structure of their plots, depiction, treatment and conclusion of the story , most Indian movies that have done well at the Box office follow , consciously or otherwise, the time-tested formula prescribed by the ancient Sanskrit theater.

Just as in the Sanskrit plays, our movies too are stuffed with navarasas; embellished with virtuous heroes having comic sidekicks; good-hearted loving mothers blessed with obedient sons; adorable heroines with plain-Jane friends; good-looking  and powerful villains toying  with vamps and sometimes providing comic relief ; loose script studded with chorus, songs and dances as also some fights; and the story always ends on a happy note with the good and love triumphing over the bad and loveless.

The initial scenes are always auspicious and happy-feeling (adi-mangala); and as the story unfolds , unbearable miseries are unjustly mounted by the crafty villain on the virtuous hero or at times the unsuspecting good-hearted hero walks into a snare specially designed for him by the  dark-hearted bad guy. In the midst of all the heart wrenching misery, near about the mid-point of the story, inevitably, something good happens to the hero or his family (madhya-mangala); and after a bitter and suspenseful struggle in which the gentle heroine, for no fault of her, is somehow drawn in. Eventually the good and love triumphs; and all ends well (antya-mangala).

Somewhere in the second-half of the story when the hero is wedged in a tight spot, the usually inept, food and fun loving sidekick, the vidushaka  (immortalized by Rajendranath and tribe) comes handy and aids the struggling hero.

5.3. The Sanskrit plays are thus the forerunners of the Bollywood formula movies. Now, any film that deviates from that time-honored formula , depicting realism, stands, out like a sore thumb ; and , acquires the unenviable title of an Offbeat. And , what is even worse is that it might be dubbed an Art film.

[That , I feel , is rather unfortunate. Because, it fails to recognize and applaud the innovative and path-breaking spirit  that augurs well for the future of the Indian Cinema.  It is particularly so , as such ventures are taken at risk to ones  career; though after  much introspection . The least we can do is to encourage such creative trends, which allow the Indian Cinema to reinvent itself.] 


5.4. The song and dance “item-numbers” which are unique to Indian movies, also seem to be inspired by the ancient Sanskrit drama.

Bharata, the author of Natyasastra and also a producer of plays, in the middle of one of his plays, introduces a song and dance sequence that apparently had no relevance to the narration of the story. The learned among the audiences are promptly confused. They inquire Bharata “We can understand about acting which conveys definite meaning. But, this dance and this music you have brought in seem to have no meaning. What use are they?”- 

yadā prāpty artham arthānāṃ tajjñair abhinayaḥ kṛtaḥ / kasmān nṛttaṃ kṛtaṃ hyetatkaṃ svabhāvam apekṣate । na gītak ārtha sambaddhaṃ na cāpy arthasya bhāvakam ॥ 262॥

Bharata agrees that there is no meaning attached to those dances and songs; and goes on to explain calmly “yes, but it adds to the beauty of the presentation and common people naturally like it. And, as these are happy and auspicious songs people love it more; and they even  perform these dances and sing these songs at their homes on marriage and other happy occasions”(Natyasastra : 4.267-268)

maṅgalamiti kṛtvā ca nṛttame tat prakīrtitam । vivāha prasavā avāha pramodā abhyuadayādiṣu ॥ 4.265॥ vinoda kāraṇaṃ ceti nṛttame tat pravartitam । ataś caiva pratikṣepā adbhūta saṅghaiḥ pravartitāḥ॥ 4.266॥


5.5. And, finally what is remarkable about Bollywood is that it is notional or abstract; it exists only in the mind and has no physical location or existence. Yet, it is close to all. Its primary form exists in what used to be called Bombay; but it has no specific location and could be anywhere in India, since the outside world has come to know all branches of Indian cinema as Bollywood. Truly, Bollywood is closer to Indian concepts of abstraction and phenomenon, than anything else we know.



Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Art, General Interest


Tags: , , , ,

Yama, the Dharma Raja

This article is about Yama , the Dharma raja, the dispenser of justice, the guardian of the ancestors; and ,the lord of death. Yama is one of the Loka-pala or Dikpala, the Regents of the directions. He presides over the South.

Before we return to Yama, let’s briefly talk about the Dikpalas.



1.1. Space, the substratum of the cosmos, is the abode, the source of all forms. The directions, the determinants of space, therefore, have a special significance. In the Indian traditions, which include Buddhism and Jainism, the deities are connected with the directions which symbolically reveal and express their powers.

1.2. Orientation is an essential aspect of the yajna. Elaborate care is taken to ensure location of the yajna altar exactly along the East-West axis, the prachee.  (For more on that : please click here). The East where the sun rises; West where the sun sets; the North and South towards which Sun’s path tilts during the cycle of seasons, were all of much significance to the Vedic people. That was because; those directions complimented the attributes associated with the gods invoked in the yajna.

2.1. Each direction is governed by a deity, a Dikpala. These Regents of the directions are deemed the protectors of the world, Loka-pala. They are the rulers of the spheres; and therefore are depicted with royal attributes.

2.2. Dikpalas are usually said to be eight in number; each governing a direction in space. In the Upanishads, the Dikpalas or Lokapalas are mentioned as four and at times as five; in the puranas and epics their number is eight; but, the Tantra traditions which adopt a three-dimensional view of the cosmos regard the Lokapalas as ten, by including zenith and nadir.

3.1. The orientation and architecture of the yajna vedi, the yajna altar, the towns, cities, the temples and buildings are all related to the division of the sphere that corresponds to the attributes of its deity. In the context of the yajna, the Southern gate is reckoned as the way of the ancestors the pitris; and, the offerings to the departed ancestors are always submitted facing South.

3.2. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad mentions Surya, the Sun, as the Regent of the East; Varuna of the West; Yama of the South; Soma of the North; and, Agni in the zenith. The Amarakosa also mentions the respective lords of the eight directions, almost in a similar way : 

indro vahniḥ pitṛpatirnairṛto varuṇo marut / kubera {ī}śaḥ patayaḥ pūrvādīnāṃ diśāṃ kramāt (1.3.178-9)

But, the Chandogya Upanishad presents a slightly different arrangement of the Dikpalas. It is this spatial allocation of the Dikpalas that is commonly mentioned in the puranas, epics etc; and followed in the Tantra texts as also in astrology, architectures and Vastu. The classification is briefly:


Courtesy : Corinna Wessels-Mevissen

Indra, the king of Devas, the Lord of the heavens,, dwells in the East, which represents power and courage.

Dikpaka Indra Dikpala Yama

Yama, the protector of the Law (Dharma raja), guardian of the ancestors; and, the king of the Dead dwells in the South, which represents justice and the care of the ancestors.

Varuna, the protector of rta– the cosmic law; guardian of rites; lord of destiny; and, the lord of water element dwells in the West, which represents knowledge.

Dikpala VarunaDikpala Kubera

And, Kubera, the king of Yakshas , and the lord of riches, dwells in the North, which represents an upper position and wealth.


The Regents of the half-directions are mentioned as:

North-East is the region of Soma (the moon or the offering made to Agni); Ishana the purifier, an aspect of Shiva; and, Prithvi the Earth that nourishes all.

Dikpala Isana Dikpala Agni

South-East is the region of Agni the fire in all its forms and the yajna.


South-West is the region of   Surya the sun; or Nirtti the misery.

Dikpala nrtthi Dikpala Vayu

And, North-West is the region of Vayu or Marut the lord of winds, and of breath and life.


The two additional Regents mentioned in the Tantra are: Brahma representing knowledge at the zenith (Urdhva); and, Anantha, the endless or the boundless at the nadir (Patala), representing the potential powers of Vishnu.



[3.3. To sum up : The Eight Dikpålas (Asta-dikpåla) are a group of ancient Vedic gods connected with certain phenomena of nature. But, with the advent and rise of the Purana-gods they have now receded to the backgroundThey were later combined into a single group; and , regarded as guardians (Lokapålas) of the four cardinal and four intermediate directions of mundane space: Indra (East); Agni (Southeast); Yama (South); Nairata (Southwest); Varuna (West); Våyu (North-west); Kubera (North); and , Ishåna (Northeast).

In certain cases, the Sun-god Surya and the Moon-god Chandra or Soma does also function as directional guardian deities. Thus, in different passages of the Manusmrti (between ca.200 BC and 200 AD) a list of Lokapålas is mentioned, comprising the traditional (and later) Asta-dikpålas,with the exception of Nairata and Ïshåna who are replaced by Arka (Sun) and Soma (Moon). Furthermore, in the Mañjusrï-bhåshita-Våstu-vidyå-shåstra , a Mahåyåna text of shilpa-shåstra , of uncertain date, an image of Soma is described on the north instead of Kubera.

And,  in the Jain tradition , Chandra is given much importance.

Chandra drawn by ten horses ]


3.4. Before we discuss Yama   let me briefly mention of an interesting analysis made by Dr. Sukumari Bhattacharji in her classic ‘The Indian Theogony’ (Cambridge University Press, 1970) wherein she views the space as interplay of the benevolent , not so benevolent and the malevolent forces in nature. The point is that the universe is not all milk and honey; but is an arena of continual frictions; on going challenges; strive for ascendancy; as also the mutual tolerance; and, existence between  sets of forces opposing each other in varying degrees, and , which at the same time  continue to  occupy the same broader space.

Satapatha Brahmana (1:2:5:17) mentions the East is the region of gods; the North is the region of men; and South is the region of Pitris the departed ancestors. Indra the solar deity who represents light rules over only one quarter- the east, while the seven other quarters are ruled by the opposing deities. The west, diametrically opposite to east, is ruled by Varuna who somehow was included among the Adityas, the solar deities.

prācī hi devānāṃ digatho udakpravaṇodīcī hi manuṣyāṇāṃ digdakṣiṇataḥ purīṣam pratyudūhatyeṣā vai dikpitṝṇāṃ sā yaddakṣiṇāpravaṇā syāt kṣipre ha yajamāno ‘muṃ lokamiyāttatho ha yajamāno jyogjīvati tasmāddakṣiṇataḥ purīṣam pratyudūhati purīṣavatīṃ kurvīta paśavo vai purīṣam paśumatīmevaināmetatkurute


But, Varuna symbolizes the setting sun; and, thus is more closely associated with gods and powers of darkness than with those of light.

Agni who rules south –east is at once both beneficent and sinister. It is said; as Havya-vahana, the carrier of oblations to gods he is with the solar gods; but, as Kavya-vahana and Kavyad, the messenger of the Pitris, he is with the gods of darkness.

[Kavya-vahana or Kavyad is described as a fire invoked with Yama, as an offering to Pitris, on the New-moon day at the conclusion of the four-monthly offering.]

Similarly, Isana who rules north-east too has both divine and sinister bearings. He is the intermediary between gods and other powers.

Rudra who rules north is a Vedic god; but later he assumes darker hues and associations’.

And, Kubera is sub-divine, a Yaksha, with links to Rudra. Between Rudra and Varuna is Vayu who rules north-west; and, he too leans more towards the dark gods than towards the solar gods in the east.

In the South is Yama the Lord of Pitris and his followers, the Pitris. Yama too, like Rudra, is a Vedic god. But since the age of Brahmanas he is identified as the Lord of death and is almost a malevolent figure.

Finally, Between Yama and Varuna is the Nairratta kona the south west corner where the Nirriti and Nairrattas (monsters) rule.

It is even said; the Dikpalas are associated not merely with the directions but with the seasons as well.

The spring, summer and rainy seasons belong to and represent the gods

vasanto grīṣmo varṣāḥ | te devā ṛtavaḥ;

while autumn, winter and dewy seasons belong to the Pitris – 

śaradd-hemantaḥ śiśiraste pitaro.

The fortnight during which the moon waxes is associated with gods

evāpūryate ‘rdhamāsaḥ sa devā ;

while the darker half of the month when the moon wanes is associated with Pitris

‘pakṣīyate sa pitaro  

The day belongs to the gods and the night to the Pitris

– ahar- eva devā rātriḥ pitaraḥ.

The morning belongs to gods and the afternoon to the Pitris

–  pūrvāhṇo devā aparāhṇaḥ pitaraḥ – (SB.2: 1:3:1).

vasanto grīṣmo varṣāḥ | te devā ṛtavaḥ śaraddhemantaḥ śiśiraste pitaro ya evāpūryate ‘rdhamāsaḥ sa devā yo ‘pakṣīyate sa pitaro ‘hareva devā rātriḥ pitaraḥ punarahnaḥ pūrvāhṇo devā aparāhṇaḥ pitaraḥ

As you see, Indra and Adityas, the solar deities, rule one quarter, while seven other quarters are ruled by forces that are either intermediary or in opposition the solar forces .What associates the gods of seven other quarters is the nature of death, decay and destruction. And, their distinct association with Pitris, the departed ancestors, binds the seven together; but, they do co exist with the solar gods. This complex interplay of light and shadow is a peculiar character of the Indian pantheon.

[Please do not fail to read a very remarkable study on The Gods of the Directions in Ancient India: Origin and Early Development in Art and Literature (until c. 1000 A.D.), submitted as a Doctoral Thesis to the Institut fur Indische Pliilologie und Kunstgeschichte, Freie Universitat, Berlin by  Corinna Wessels-Mevissen ]

Yama the Dharma Raja


4.1. Yama is depicted as the sovereign of the infernal; the lord of death and the dispenser of justice; and the governor of eternal law that ensures rejuvenation of life and a sense of balance between the old and the new in all existence.  Yama , the son of Vivaswan  is Vaivasvata ; and, just as Sri Dakshinamurti , Yama is also associated with Udumbara (fig tree).  He is the embodiment of righteousness, the Dharma;   and he is the king of justice, the Dharma raja. He judges the dead; but, he is amenable to pity and reason, as in the case of Savitri and Pramadvara* in the Mahabharata.

[ *


Pramadvara (pramadaam varaa, the best among the most beautiful) was the daughter of Menaka, the Apsara (celestial nymph) and Viswavasu, the king of Gandharvas. Since Pramadvara was abandoned by her parents, Rishi Sthulakesa raised the most delightful little girl with great care and love. Later in her life, just on the eve of her wedding with her beloved Ruru (son of hermit Pramati and damsel Ghritachi) Pramadvara  died suddenly , bitten by a snake. Ruru, the heartbroken bridegroom,  in deep sorrow and bewailing appeals to gods (Devas) to restore his Love Pramadvara  to life. Yama, the Dharmaraja, moved by pity and sympathizing with the plight of Ruru agrees to bring Pramadvara back to life; but, on condition that Ruru should  gift half of his remaining lifespan (Ayu) to her.  Ruru readily agrees to Yama’s rider with alacrity; Pramadvara comes back to life; and, immediately marries Ruru without losing time. The happy parents later beget a son Sunaka. And, his son   Saunaka, later,  as the chief of the Rshis,  performed a very long Yajna in the Naimisha forest (Naimisaranya). Saunaka is the one who heard the recitations of Mahabharata and   Srimad Bhagavata   from Suta and his son Ugrashravas. Saunaka, in turn, narrated these epics.  Saunaka is credited with monumental works, such as the Anukramanis ( a sort of Vedic Index) , Brhaddevata (which narrates  the legends of the Vedic gods ) and Rg Vidhana  (which explains each rk in the context  of the Srauta and Gruhya Sutras)]

At times, a distinction is made between Yama and Mrutyu. The both have a sort of working relationship. Mruthyu the death snatches the life on earth; and transfers it to Yama the lord of ancestors for dealing with it further.

Mrutyu the death, is the reality of life on the planet Earth (prithvi).The term Mrutyu is derived from the root mru which stands for earth (as in mrun the earth; mrutya the mortal being rooted to earth); and, Mrutyu literally is returning to the bowels of the earth.

Mrityu is death personified; hymns are addressed to Mrityu in Rig Veda (10.18) praying him not to harm children and men. The lifeless body is laid into earth the mother with the prayer – Oh mother Earth, oppress him not; be gracious unto him; shelter him kindly; cover him as mother covers her infant with her garment.

 param mṛtyo anu parehi panthāṃ yas te sva itaro devayānāt |  cakṣuṣmate śṛṇvate te bravīmi mā naḥ prajāṃ rīriṣo mota vīrān ||RV_10,018.01||

upa sarpa mātaram bhūmim etām uruvyacasam pṛthivīṃ suśevām |  ūrṇamradā yuvatir dakṣiṇāvata eṣā tvā pātu nirṛter upasthāt |RV_10,018.10|

While the physical body returns to the elements, the subtle body is handed over by Mrutyu to Yama the lord of the ancestors. A prayer is submitted to Yama to prepare a dwelling place , in his world, for the dead one.


4.2. Three hymns (10, 14, and 35) in the tenth book of Rig Veda are addressed to Yama.

In the Rig Veda, Yama is a minor god; and he is benign like any of its gods. He is described as “the first of men that died, and the first that departed to the (celestial) world.” He was the one who found the way to the home which cannot be taken away: Yama is ‘a gatherer of men’; and as one who looks after the well-being of the dead, to whom he provides food and shelter. He is invoked along with the Pitris (the departed ones) and Angirasa; and, invited reverentially to sit on the grass-seat (kusha) and taste the oblation (RV 10.14.4-5). 

Imaṃ yama prastaram ā hi sīdāṅgirobhiḥ pitṛbhiḥ saṃvidānaḥ / ā tvā mantrāḥ kaviśastā vahantv enā rājan haviṣā mādayasva ||

Dr. Muir says:  “Yama is nowhere represented in the Rig-Veda as having anything to do with the punishment of the wicked. . So far as is yet known, the hymns of that Veda contain no prominent mention of any such penal retribution”

Atharva Veda (18.3.13) sings “Worship the son of Vivasvat, the gatherer of men with oblations, he who was the first of the mortals to die (prathamo martyānāṃ), he who first entered   this world – preyāya prathamo lokam etam”).

It appears that Yama was initially a mortal but was the first to die and enter the ‘other world’ and gain the status of the gatherer of  people (departed souls) . He was eventually elevated to divine status and assigned a portion of the oblation at the Yajna.  Yama is thus the first ancestor and the king of ancestors (pitr raja; Preta-adipati ) as also the god of ceremonies, Sraddha deva. He is also the king of ghosts (preta raja).He is entitled to a full share of Soma offered to gods in the yajna.

yo mamāra prathamo martyānāṃ yaḥ preyāya prathamo lokam etam |  vaivasvataṃ saṃgamanaṃ janānāṃ yamaṃ rājānaṃ haviṣā saparyata |AVŚ_18,3.13|

4.3. The term Yama means one who restrains (yam to control) or one who binds. He binds, decides on the action of men . He controls (yacchati) all beings without distinction and restrains all beings.

Yama with BuffaloYama3

4.4. Prayers are offered to Yama for longevity and deliverance from recurring deaths. As for the dead, he is requested to offer them proper food and shelter. Yama is also sought to grant release from asanaya (hunger). In the Grhya-sutras, many rituals are prescribed for worship of ancestors, offering them oblations with prayers to Yama for averting recurring deaths. In these passages Yama is revered as any other god whose abode is beyond death .a kindly god who is more revered than feared. He is god of the dead but not a god of death. He is the god of righteousness (Dharmaraja) and a restrainer (niyamaytir)

5.1. From Yajur Veda onwards, especially after the purusha-medha sacrifice, where oblations are prescribed for each aspect of Yama, his personality undergoes a radical change. From then on, the benevolent god of justice becomes the dreaded god of death. He gets associated with the destructive aspects of Shiva as Kaala, Antaka etc.

5.2. Yama the Dakshina-Adhipathi   the lord of the southern quarter is himself called death Mrityu, the end, the finisher Antaka, and one who takes away all lives Sarva-pranahara. He is the finisher kratanta; the equitable one samana; and, one who hands out punishments danda.  He is also Danda-dhara , one who wields the fearsome  weapon Danda He is also Pasi, the one who holds the noose. He is respected and feared because he ensures that his orders are executed ruthlessly : Danda sashana  or  Bhima-shasana .

Yama is kaala, both time and death; ‘the cook of the creatures ‘ripening them with time; ‘he who ever knows day and night and the seasons; and the good and evil works of man’ . As kala he is dark with red eyes and holding a staff.

Yama and family

Yama - God of Death

6.1. Yama is the son of the resplendent Vivasvat; hence his last-name is Vaivasvata (Rig Veda 10.14.5) – vivasvantaṃ huve yaḥ pitā te. His mother is Sanjnya or Saranyu (meaning the cloud) the daughter of Tvastra Vishwakarma the divine architect. Yama is the brother of Vaivasvata Manu the progenitor of this eon; and of Asvins the gods of health. Yama’s twin sister Yami loves him passionately. She is of the nature of night (yamini); and, it is said, the dark flowing river the Yamuna is named after Yami.

[As said earlier; Yama was the first to cross over to the region beyond; others followed him; and, continue to do so. Yama, the Dharma-raja; and, Manu, who prescribed code of conduct for humans, while on earth, were both the sons of Vivasvat – an Aditya , a solar deity. The two brothers are the pathfinders for humanity; and, the two, together, regulate and judge the conduct of humans -here and thereafter. But, somehow, no formal worship is offered to the two in the Vedic religion.]

6.2. The Bhrigus and Varuna are his associates. Yama has close relations with Rudra, Soma, Kala, and Nirrti, and a closer one with Agni who conveys to him the dead.


6.3. Mahabharata mentions that Yama married the ten daughters of Daksha the progenitorIn most texts like Vishnu Purana and Vishnudharmottara, it is described that Yama married , Dhumorna (shroud of smoke that rises from the funeral pyre).In other texts like Garuda Purana; Syamala is described to be his wife. In some texts, Yama is depicted with three wives Hema-mala, Sushila and Vijaya.

6.4. In the Rig-Veda, Amrta is Yama’s son, but in the Atharva Veda, Duḥsvapna (bad dream) is his son by Varunani.

Yama, his residence and his entourage


7.1. As regards his residence, it is said, Yama resides in his mansion Yamalaya at the South. His city is Samyamini (city of bondage). His abode in the city and its environment are described as pleasant and comfortable. His city has four gates and seven arches, as also two rivers the Pushpodaka (stream of flowers) and the Vivasvati (the roaring) that flow through the city.


7.2. Yama sits upon the Vichara-bhu the throne of deliberation, placed in the centre of the judgment hall named kaalaci (hall of destiny).

The janitor at the entrance to the judgment hall is Vaidhyata (meaning the legal process).   Yama’s scribe and secretary is the ever efficient Chitra-gupta, person privy to many secrets.  His ministers are Chanda (wrath) and Mahachanda (terror). There is also the kala-purusha who keeps eternal vigil. Apart from demons, many sages and kings are also said to assemble in his court, to pay their respects. The messengers of death (yama duta) are his attendants and foot soldiers. They are dressed in black, have red eyes and bristling hair. Their legs, body and nose are like those of crows.

7.3. Two insatiable dogs having four-eyes and  wide nostrils accompany Yama. They are Syama (the black) and Sabala (the powerful) who were born to Surama (the swift) the dog of Indra, the king of gods. Yama’s dogs watch the path of the dead. They guard the road to his abode, and which the departed are advised to hurry past. These dogs are said to wander about among men as his messengers, for summoning them to their master, who is described as ’ sending a bird as the herald of doom’.

7.4. Yama rides a chariot named Roga (sickness); and is followed by demons that are the different diseases.

Yama, his court

8.1. Of the two paths of the dead mentioned  in the  later Vedic doctrines of death and after-death, Devayana (the path of the gods) and Pitryana (the path of ancestors) , the latter is that of the humans and of spirits doomed to take rebirth. Such souls proceed through Soma, the moon, and eventually are judged by Yama.

8.2. As regards the procedures involved in procuring the dead and judging them, it is said; when it is time for a jiva to depart from its body the messengers of death secure it with a noose and drag it through barren territories without shade or water, on its way to Yama’s court. At the judgment hall the Dead one presents himself before Yama, all alone unaccompanied by friends or relatives; accompanied only by his past deeds. After the record-keeper Chitragupta reads out from his main record (agra – samdhani) the list and summary of the good and bad deeds committed by the dead one, the judgment is pronounced by Yama who appears gracious to the good-doer and fearful to the evildoer. The unfortunate dead ones condemned to naraka the hell, are made to pass through red-hot iron gates and wade through the stinking and boiling river the Vaitarini (abandonment) littered with filth, blood, hair and bones.


Yama iconography

9.1. Vishnudharmottara (3. 51. 1 – 5), while detailing the iconographic features of the Lord Yama, states that Yama should be depicted as having dark complexion, as that of the water-bearing dark clouds; elegantly dressed in shining golden hue dress; and, wearing varieties of ornaments. He should be mounted on a huge bison

Yama should be shown as having four arms. In the two right hands, he holds a sword and a punishing-rod (Danda-ayudha), which bears the insignia of a hideous face , emitting flames.

On his left lap sits his wife Dhumorna (धूमोर्णा), who is dark in complexion, as like the Nilotphala flower. With one of his left hands Yama embraces Dhumorna; and, in the other left hand he holds a battle-shield.

And, Dhumorna has two arms; and her right hand is placed around Yama’s shoulder; and, the other hand holds a yoga-danda, titled as Matulanga.

The scribe Chitra-gupta, should be placed on Yama’s right side.

Sa-jala-ambuda sacchaya stapta chamikar-ambaraha / Mahishas-thascha kartavyaha sarva-abharana-vanyamaha / 3.51.1 /

Nilothphala-bham Dhumornam vamatha sanghe cha karayeth / Dhumorno dvi-bhuja karyayi Yamaha karya chatur-bhujam  / 3.51.2 /

Danda khadga ubhau kathya Yama dakshina-hasthayo /Dando-pari mukham karyam jwala-mala-vibhushanam  / 3.31.3 /

Dhumrorna prustagam vamam charma-yuktam tatha param / Dhumorna dakshinam hastham Yama-prusta gatam bhaveth  / 3.51.4 /

Vame tasya kare karyam Matulanga sudarshanam / parshe tu dakshine tasya Chitraguptam ch karayeth  / 3.51. 5 /

Yama.j2 pg


9.2.Coming to Yama’s appearance, it is said, the virtuous and the sinners see him differently. To the virtuous , Yama looks like Vishnu “with charming smiling face, four arms, eyes like lotus in blossom; holding the conch, discus, mace and lotus; and riding Garuda”.

Yama 4

9.3. To the not-so-fortunate, Yama is of grim and fearful appearance. His body of dark or green complexion is huge and ill shaped with glowing red eyes. His eyes are deep wells, his lips are thin the color of smoke, his teeth and nails are long, and his breath from his wide nostrils is hurricane like. His reed-like hair is tied on the top over which sits a glittering crown. He has on his chest garlands made of weird beads; and yellow and red wild flowers. He rides a huge black buffalo named Ugra the terrible, wielding in his claw like hands a sword, mace or a long staff (danda) and a noose. He roars like the ocean of destruction.


10. Having said all that, Yama is otherwise regarded as Dharma Raja the lord of justice dedicated to maintain order and adherence to rule of law with a view to preserving the harmony in existence.

Yama is also associated with the legend of Markandeya the devote boy , an icon of innocence and absolute faith.

Markandeya is embracing a linga

Yama is respected as one of the wisest of the Devas and a very good teacher. He is also an adept in Atma-vidya, the knowledge of Self. In the Kaṭha Upaniṣad, as death personified, he holds a long discourse with the boy Nachiketas, whom he initiates into the mysteries of life, death, and immortality. Yama, explains to boy Nachiketa: “that knowing which, everything else becomes known?”

Yama nachiketa2

Yama in other traditions

200px-Yama_tibet  Buddhist Yama of Tibet

11. Lord Yama traveled to other traditions too. The Vedic yama is Yima Kshaeta in the Avesta of Zoroaster (the latter part of this name derived from the root kshimeans “to rule”. The name Yima Kshaeta,is thus  “Yima, the King”).  Yima, whose region is south, is the first mortal and a great king of men. In Buddhist lore, Yama is identified with Kama the desire and Mara the death. He judges the dead and presides over the Buddhist hells. The Buddhist Yama is also a part of the Chinese and Japanese mythologies. The legends of YamaorYima, the son of the Sun transformed in the Japanese mythology to Jimmu the first mortal as well as the first Emperor of Japan, born of the Sun-goddess.

Concept of Death

2.1. One of the meanings assigned to the term Yama is the ‘twin’, as in ‘yamala the twins’. The moment a being is born, death too is born along with him as his twin. Both travel the journey of life together, the death always shadowing his twin; that is only until death overtakes the twin. Thus, life and death are never apart, they are ever together. Of the two, death   is a certainty, while its twin comes with no guarantees. Death is also the only reality and the only experience one cannot escape.

12.2. In the Indian traditions, death is not a punishment but is a part of the sequence of life. Death is not the final end; but is a passage or a doorway to other possibilities that might exist thereafter. It is like getting into a new dress, discarding the old and worn out, and going about fresh business. And, as my mother used to put it, death is like” being shifted from one breast to other breast of the mother. The baby feels lost for a short instant, but not for long.”

12.3. If it is so why do Hindus and Buddhists have to fear death? It is explained, the fear is because of the horrid process of dying, the pain and the agony; and the physical suffering as also psychological trauma it involves. The fear or helplessness for not being in control of the time and circumstances of one’s death exacerbates the scare. The dying person is inundated with anxiety, fear and sorrow of parting forever from his attachments, his near and dear ones and all that he loved and valued during those years of his life. The experience of death is the helplessness, the grievous sense of loss and betrayal; and the sheer fright of ceasing to be and staring into the unknown. These fears and anxieties are universal.

12.4. Acharya Vinoba Bhave in one of his talks explained, there is no way one can avoid death; it is inevitable. He said, one may not be able to control the happening of the event, but one can surely try framing ones approach to it. We came into this world without a choice, but can try leaving it on our terms. That might not succeed in all cases, but it can help influence our attitude to death.

Everyone dies, he said, there is nothing unique about it; but one can make his mark by trying to leave behind a better world than the one he inherited. One way of doing that is to work and live on the basis that death is just round the corner; that somehow seems to spur a person to do his best in his endowers. Acharya said, life is in a way a skillful preparation to face death with equanimity, without fear or anxiety.

Anayasena maranam, vina dainyena jivanam”,

A life without humiliation and death without pain was his prayer to Krishna.


Rehearse death; rehearse his freedom. A person who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave. He is beyond the reach of all political powers.

–  Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD). Letters from a Stoic

References and sources

The myths and Gods of India by Alain Danielou

Brahmiya Chitra Karma sastram by Dr. G Gnanananda for the line drawings of Yama.

Shilpii Shri Thippajappa (1780-1856)  For the drawing of the eight Dikpalas

Other pictures are from internet


Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Speculation, Yama


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Agni And Soma Interplay: Life Thrives On Life

1.1. The whole of universe is viewed as a perpetual yajna. At each moment of its existence one form or the other of its energies is being transformed into another form of energy; one form of life is transformed into another form of life; one form of life or its derivatives is consumed by another form of life. This ceaseless activity of transformation and devouring of the one by another seems to be the very nature of universe.

1.2. It is said, the universe has a triple aspect: the devourer, the devoured and their relationship, which is the yajna. It is through this relationship that the universe exists and endures; thus yajna is identified with Vishnu, the all pervading preserver. “The yajna is Vishnu” (‘yajno vai Vishnuhuh’: Taittereya Brahmana 2.1.83)


1.3. The texts mention that all of universe could be broadly classified into two factors anna (the food) and annada (the one who eats or consumes). Every creature is the devourer of another and the food of some other. “I am food, I am food, I am food; I am the eater, I am the eater, I am the eater….the first born “(Taittereya Upanishad:3.10.06) – 

aham-annam-aham-annam-aham-annam;aham-annādo aham -annādo’-aham-annāda;aham-asmi prathamajā ṛtā sya , pūrvaṃ devebhyo amṛtasya nā bhāi

Similar statements occur in other texts:”The whole world is verily the food and the eater of food “(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: 1.4.6)

 etāvad vā idaṃ sarvam annaṃ caivānnādaś ca | soma evānnam agnir annādaḥ |

2.1. Existence involves devouring and being devoured. In other words, life thrives on life (jivo jeevasya jeevanam).The acts of devouring and being devoured are successive states of everything. The processes of life and death are entwined, each giving rise to the other.

2.2. In this process the ‘Agni-principle’ represents the ‘eater’, while the ‘Soma-principle’ represents the ’food’, which feeds the Agni. The two were born together : eka-yonyā-tmakāv agnīṣomau “All this universe of conscious and unconscious is made up of Agni (fire) and Soma (the offering)” (Mahabharata –Shanthi parva- 328.52). The process during which Agni the fire devours Soma the fuel is in the nature of yajna.

agniḥ somena saṃyukta ekayoni mukhaṃ kṛtam / agnī-ṣomātmakaṃ tasmāt jagat kṛtsnaṃ carācaram //12,328.052 //

2.3. The evolving universe is propelled by the interaction between these two forces of nature. Agni represents the ‘metabolism ‘of the universe. It is the agent for causing change. Soma, which stands for all that nourishes, is the fuel that sustains Agni. The pair, Agni and Soma, each need the other; and the two in tandem create, sustain and recycle the substances in the universe, ensuring continuity and evolution of life. This is the yajna.

3.1. There are many forms of yajna whether cosmic or human. Every form of creation human or otherwise has the character of yajna.”Any action of man which may promote betterment of man has the nature of yajna” (yogatrayananda – Shiva ratri)

3.2. It is explained that existence implies action. One can hardly remain for a moment without breathing, thinking or dreaming. Something or other is happening all the while to keep the body and mind alive. Action can be neutral having no moral value; or it can be positive; or negative. Even inaction is a form of action. We, all the while, take part in the yajna of life   either as instruments or its feed. The main activity of one’s existence is to take part in the ongoing ritual, yajna.

Let’s come back to the interaction between Agni and Soma,  a little later.


4.1. Agni is one of the most important deities of the Rig Veda. He is one of the Regents of space (Dikpala). He rules over the South-East (Agneya) and is called the first or the forward light (puro jyotishu). Agni the son of the heavens (gagana atmaja) is pictured as a priestly sage, beneficial to gods and men. He is the friendly mediator between men and gods. It is through Agni that man communicates with gods and dwellers of celestial spheres.

4.2. Agni is the purifier of all; and, all that purifies is yajna (Chandogya Upanishad: 4.16.1) – eṣa ha vai yajño yo’yaṃ pavate eṣa ha yannida sarvaṃ punāti. And, all that has been purified is worthy of being offered to gods; “He feeds gods through the mouths of Agni, the first among the gods “ (Aittareya Brahmana: 1.9.2).Agni is oblation eater Hutasa or Hutabhuj, the oblation carrier Havya vahana and the conveyer Vahi.

4.4. Agni had been controlled and domesticated and brought into the home, kept alive through careful tending; and is propitiated with offering. Agni is the friend and the center of household in the ritual sense or otherwise.   Agni is the protector of men and their homes; he presides over all sacraments. He is the witness to all the significant events and commitments that men and women make in their lives. Agni validates their life events on all solemn occasions.

 5.1. Agni is represented as all that burns and devours or digests. Agni is Vaisvanara the all pervader; the one who spreads, takes over and consumes. Agni is the Sun, heat, stomach, lust, passion and speech. Digestive acids are considered forms of Agni;   food is the offering. The fire of anger, the fire of lust, and all that destroys opens possibilities of other forms of yajna. War is one of the other forms of yajna –maarana homa. Human life and its efforts to exist amidst adversities; and to survive is an ongoing yajna.

5.2. The nature of the Agni is the nature of existence, as well as its source and symbol. At each moment some form of Agni is busy devouring some form of life, of fuel. Even the Sun, a form of Agni, burns devouring its own substance and puts out energy. All aspects of combustion, of digestion, of processing and of creation are forms of Agni.

5.3. The splendors or the shining quality in anything is a subtle form of Agni; he is the power of the inner as well the outer illumination, the power of knowledge as well as of perception. He is the Lord of knowledge. Understanding the science of fire in all its forms is the key to all knowledge.

 [ To take Agni as the name of the ritual fire only is to mistake the signifier for the signified. He is many things: a flame, a stream, a bird, a tree, a boat, a lion, a horse, a chariot, a craftsman, a thinker, a warrior, a sage and a knower, a seer and a will, often the seer-will (kavikratu), and he fulfills many functions: messenger, guest, priest of the call, bringer of the oblation, knower of all things born, friend and leader of the human people, fosterer, purifier, and none of these exhaust his reality, for he is said to have many names and to be manifold in his forms. But he is always connected with the truth , satyam, ritam, possessing the truth, ritavân.

Similarities between Sumerian Anki and Vedic Agni by Jean-Yves Lung [


6.1. Soma is personified as a deity and is one of the most important Vedic gods. All of the 114 hymns of the ninth book of the Rig Veda, known as the Soma Mandala, are addressed to Soma Pavamana(purified Soma). The hymns are in celebration of Soma represented as the most powerful god, healer of diseases, bestower of riches, and lord of all other gods. Soma is referred to in the Rig-Veda as the soul of the Yajna (atmayajnasya).

6.2. The oblation, the ritual offering in the yajna; that is, the food of the Agni is Soma. Every substance thrown into the sacramental fire is a form of Soma. At the same time, Soma is the elixir of life which stimulates fire and intoxicates the beings – apāma somam amṛtā abhūmāganma jyotir avidāma devān |RV_8,048.03

6.3. It mixes freely with water and is responsible for sweetness (madhurya) in food. And, as food it nourishes all forms of life.  It enters the herbs and supports beings with long and healthy life.  All the food, all the offering, all fuel, the cold, the moist, the moon, the sperm, and the wine etc in the universe are Soma.


7.1. Soma is a rather difficult concept. I am aware that Soma is variously described as the moon, the manas, the elixir, the honey, the sweetness, the drink, the creeper, the cold, the wet etc. A particular version even presents Soma as electrum (gold-silver metallic compound).  Here, I restrict myself; I prefer to treat Soma as a wonderful concept of the Vedic people employed to suggest an essential functionary that, in combination with Agni the fire of life, brings into existence any good object. It is that which provides reality or substance to the un-manifest (satyvataraya agnau suyate tasmat somah).

7.2. Soma the gentle devoured substance is the partner of Agni the fiery devouring spirit. Soma the substance of the universe is ‘food’.” Food is the principle of all, for, truly, the beings are born from food, when born they live by food; and when they are dead they themselves become food “. (Taittereya Upanishad 3.2)

annaṅ brahmēti vyajānāt. annāddhyēva khalvimāni bhūtāni jāyantē. annēna jātāni jīvanti. annaṅ prayantya-bhisaṅ-viśantīti. ৷৷3.2.1৷৷

Agni – Soma interplay

8.1. It is not possible to say whether food is more important than the eater; fuel more important than the fire; substance more important than action. Both fire and offering are important to one another. Both arise from the same root and both are the essential aspects of yajna, and of all life. Agni and Soma, each compliment the other wonderfully well; and that is the essence of all existence.

8.2. The life begins with yajna and ends in a yajna. Semen is Soma, yoni the yajna-vedi the altar and passion is the fire. Agni is the desire, the thirst, the intentional will; and Soma is that which aids to fructify that desire. They together bring forth a new life. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (6.4.3) classifies the act of procreation under ‘Vajpayee yajna’. The Agni- Soma pair participates in all creative processes.

sa yāvān ha vai vājapeyena yajamanasya loko bhavati tāvān asya loko bhavati |
ya evaṃ vidvān adhopahāsaṃ caraty āsāṃ strīṇāṃ sukṛtaṃ vṛṅkte | atha ya idam avidvān adhopahāsaṃ caraty āsya striyaḥ sukṛtaṃ vṛñjate || BrhUp_6,4.3 ||

At the end, man’s body is thrown into the funeral fire as his last offering.

9.1. It is the interplay between food and the eater, of Agni (fire) and Soma (the offering or fuel), which marks the yajna of all our lives. The nature of Agni is to spread and take over; and that of Soma is to contract, consolidate and vanish. Agni takes over; Soma is devoured. These aspects occur in every phase of human life.

9.2. Agni is the warm outward breath; Soma is the cool inward breath. Agni (fire) is life, Soma is activity; Agni is the enjoyer, Soma is that which is enjoyed. Soma is the food that feeds Agni, the hunger, in man’s belly. Soma and Agni together sustain and carry forward the life.

9.3. All substances that are hot, fiery, dry or parched are in the nature of Agni; Substances that are moist, cooling, soothing and nourishing are in the nature of Soma. Agni is red, Soma is the color of night (Chandogya Upanishad: 6.4).Anger, aggression is Agni; that which restrains is Soma. To grab, to take over is Agni; that which consolidates and preserves is Soma. Combustion is Agni; the fluidity in all aspects of life is Soma.

10. At times Agni becomes its own Soma, just as the Sun burns itself to radiate energy. When a substance has spread to its maximum size, it has to contract. Hence, Agni becomes Soma at each stage of its contraction. Soma falling into Agni itself is transformed into Agni. The acts of devouring and being devoured are successive stages of everything. The alternation of Agni and Soma provides the impetus for growth; for all beings which procreate, grow and perish in the yajna, the ritual of life.


Agni Soma

RV 1.93.1-6 1 AGNI and Soma, mighty Pair, graciously hearken to my call, accept in friendly wise my hymn, and prosper him who offers gifts.

2 The man who honours you to-day, Agni and Soma, with this hymn, bestow on him heroic strength, increase of kine, and noble steeds.

3 The man who offers holy oil and burnt oblations unto you, Agni and Soma, shall enjoy great strength, with offspring, all his life.

 4 Agni and Soma, famed is that your prowess wherewith ye stole the kine, his food, from Pani . Ye caused the brood of Brsaya to perish; ye found the light, the single light for many.

 5 Agni and Soma, joined in operation ye have set up the shining lights in heaven. From curse and from reproach, Agni and Soma, ye freed the rivers that were bound in fetters.

6 One of you Mitarisvan brought from heaven, the Falcon rent the other from the mountain. Strengthened   by holy prayer Agni and Soma have made us ample room for sacrificing

Agni Soma 2

RV 1.80.1-2 1. THUS, in the Soma, in wild joy the Brahman hath exalted thee: Thou, mightiest It thunder-armed, hast driven by force he Dragon from the earth, lauding thine own imperial sway

.2 The mighty flowing Soma-draught, brought by the Hawk, hath gladdened thee, that in thy strength, O Thunderer, thou hast struck down Vrtra from the floods, lauding thine own imperials way.

[ Translation by  Griffith ]


11.1. It is likely that the Agni and Soma was initially a bi-polar, a two humor fire- water medical theory. But that relation blossomed into the classical three humor (tri-dosha) doctrine of Ayurveda. The interplay of Agni and Soma is of vital importance in Ayurveda both at the physical and the subtle levels, as also in the Yoga of Ayurveda.

11.2. According to Ayurveda, a person’s constitution, health and disease are a result of the balance/imbalance of three biological humors – vata, pitta and kapha. If the functions of these three humors were well balanced, then the individual would be in a healthy condition. An imbalance within or between them, would lead to various kinds of ailments. This is the tri-dosha-siddhanta. The primary purpose of Ayurveda   is to restore/ maintain proper balance of vata, pitta and kapha.

11.3. These three humours correspond to the active elements of air, fire and water, which in turn are regarded the aspects of the Vedic deities Indra, Agni and Soma. Indra is equated with vata which is in the nature of Vayu (air); Agni is equated with pitta which is fire, combustion and transformation at all levels; while Soma as fundamental liquid of life is equated with kapha the biological water humour. While Vata controls all the movements in the body, pitta takes care of chemical reactions and biosynthesis of various compounds within the body. Kapha, on the other hand, deals with balanced growth, development and functioning of the body.

Samanagni  is the state when the three doshasvatapitta and kapha are well balanced.

12.1. At the subtle level, Indra represents prana the life-force; Agni represents tejas the fire or the sharpness of mind or intellect; while Soma represents ojas the essential body fluids. It is said, whenvata is purified or refined it rises to prana, a higher state of life-force; when pitta is purified it enhances the intensity of perception; and, when kapha is purified the essential body fluids are harmonized, then the mind is transformed. This is the Yoga in Ayurveda; and, it relates to balancing the three humors in their subtle essence as pranatejas and ojas. That is achieved through use of various substances and methods including herbs, medicines, rituals, mantras and meditation.

12.2. Agni and Soma, thus, together are of vital importance; and play complimenting roles in all stages of human development and evolution.




(i) Rig Veda (4.58.3) describes Agni as:“A great god with four horns, three feet, two heads, and seven hands. He has the form of a Bull bound in places, whose bellowing descends among the mortals ‘.

catvāri śṛṅgā trayo asya pādā dve śīrṣe sapta hastāso asya / tridhā baddho vṛṣabho roravīti maho devo martyāṃ ā viveśa  RV_04.058.03

(ii) Various Agama and Shilpa texts carry his iconographic descriptions. Among such texts, the Shilpa text Isvara samhita (Nrusimha kalpa: 7.14-20) contains an elaborate description of the Agni’s form.

 “Strongly built, with a large belly, Agni is red, with golden brown mustache and red matted hair. He is endowed with two heads sprouting from a single neck. He has four horns (representing four Vedas), two on each head. His each head has three eyes. His two heads together have seven tongues of golden hue (three in the right head and four in the left head) emitting seven colors of fires. Agni should be shown with seven hands, four on the right (holding the ladles sruk and sruva; as also a rosary and a sphere) and three on the left (holding a sphere (shakthi), a fan and a jug holding ghee).  He is dressed in smoke-colored garments, surrounded by flames; and his countenance is placid. He is seated on a ram; and has three feet representing the three ablutions in morning, midday and evening.With these three feet he stands in three worlds.  ”.

(iii) There are other descriptions of Agni with four arms. Agni is described as being red in color; having yellow eyes and two heads. He carries to gods the offerings of the yajna (havya vahana).   His four hands carry an ax, a torch, a fan and a ladle and sometimes a rosary and a flaming spear (shakthi). He is also described as tomara-dhara (one who wields the javelin); Abja-hasta (one with a lotus in hand); Sukasa (bright one) and Suchi (pure), He is the giver of wealth (dravino dasa).

Adorned with flames he is dressed in black. His standard is smoke (dhumaketu).He is accompanied by a ram and he sometimes rides it (chagaratha). At times he sits in a chariot drawn by seven red horses (Rohitashva), representing seven meters used in the hymns.. The seven winds are the wheels of his chariot and Vata the air is his charioteer. Agni has also seven tongues of fire (sapta jihva), each of which has a name.

(iv) Agni is commonly depicted as riding a ram or a chariot or in standing position (sthanaka) ever ready to receive the offerings submitted to him. He is not shown either as relaxing (sukhasana) or reclining (sayana).


(i) There is no specific iconographic representation of Soma. The stanzas addressed to Soma in the soma-suktha of Rig Veda urge Soma to manifest; but do not refer to his form. The theme of the hymns addressed to Soma generally runs as: “Oh Soma, Pavamana, the overwhelming power in the battles, manifest thyself for the good of our cattle, our people, our horses and useful plants. Protect us from the miser whoever he may be, protect us even from his voice .Open a way for us, carry us beyond difficulties” 

(ii) The iconography of Soma has got mixed up with that of Chandra the Moon, also addressed as Soma. The ancient text Vishnudharmottara (part three, ch.72, verses 1-8) mentions that “Soma should be given the form of the moon”. The text in its earlier passages (ch.68, verses 1-14) had described the form of Lord Chandra the master of the abode of the ancestors. It said:

Chandra drawn by ten horses

“The Lord Moon (Chandra) should be made with lustrous white body because he is composed of the essence of water; with four hands, and white garments. He should be adorned with all ornaments. His two hands hold two white lotuses representing beauty and grace. His chariot with two wheels should have Ambara (horizon) as the charioteer and driven by ten horses representing ten directions; and they are named (from left to right of the Moon) Sarja, Trimanasa, Vrsa, Vadi, Nara, Vach, Saptadhatu, Hamsa, Vyoma and Mrga. The insignia in the left corner of the chariot should bear the mark of lion representing Dharma.

His twenty-eight wives called Nakshatra (stars) should be depicted bright and beautiful. The Moon should be depicted with luster (kanthi), enchanting beauty (shobha) and as the delight of the whole world.

Chandra Moon S Rajam



References and sources:

The Myths and Gods of India  By Alain Danielou.
Most of the substance is from this book.
Pictures are from internet

Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Speculation


Tags: , , , , ,

Ganapathi, the lord of the ganas


1.1. Everything that our senses can perceive and our mind can apprehend can be expressed in terms of categories. These might include our desires, our treasures, and all that we care for or try to avoid.  Hence categories, the Ganas, could be considered inevitable to our existence. The texts mention, all that can be counted and comprehended is Gana.

[ It is said; such categorization or analytical  investigation and examination (ānvīkṣikī) of issues which bring clarity into the intellectual aspects of man’s life help him to attain freedom (moksha) from delusions and confusions in life. The Arthasástra of Kautilya (Chapter II-  ṣection.1: Enumeration of the sciences) speaks of ānvīkṣikī– metaphysical speculation involving keen introspectionas being the most beneficial to the world – ‘leading to all kinds of knowledge, reliable means to accomplish all kinds of acts and receptacle of all kinds of virtues’.

tābhir dharma.arthau yad vidyāt tad vidyānāṃ vidyātvam // sāṃkhyaṃ yogo lokāyataṃ ca^ity ānvīkṣikī //dharma.adharmau trayyām artha.anarthau vārttāyāṃ naya.anayau daṇḍa.nītyāṃ bala.abale ca etāsāṃ hetubhir anvīkṣamāṇā lokasya upakaroti vyasane^abhyudaye ca buddhim avasthāpayati prajñā.vākya.kriyā.vaiśāradyaṃ ca karoti //]

1.2. The term Gana means a collection of things or the horde. The fundamental principle of classification through which the relation between different orders of things; and between macro and micro forms of existence can be understood is called Ganesha the ruler over all categories.


2. Ganapathi the ruler of all categories is identified with Divinity in its perceptible manifestation. For the followers of the Ganapathya sect he is the Supreme Divinity. He is placed above the Trinity (Tri murti).

3. Ganapathi stands for one of the basic symbolisms in the Indian thought, the identity of the macrocosm and the microcosm; or, in religious terms, man is in the image of God. That relation can be best expressed in terms of number (gana). Hence, number is seen as the common element of all forms.’

ganapathi 2

4. 1. Ganapathi’s elephant head over man’s body symbolizes unity of the small being (micro) and the Great Being (macro). The term Gaja that normally means elephant is at times taken to signify “the origin as also the goal” (ga = goal; ja =origin). The Gaja is thus a symbol of the stage where the “un-manifest ends “and where “existence begins”. The man part of Ganapathi image is the manifest principle; and the un-manifest is that which is above.

4.2. In the world of appearances where opposites do not often coexist, man cannot be “Gaja”; but it can happen symbolically. Ganapathi Upanishad states “thou art That (tat tvam asi) ”.The text says the living being is the visible form of That, the supreme essence. Human existence, according to that Upanishad, is the coordination of the absolute and the relative; of That and Thou. True knowledge is the realization of unity.

The image of Ganapathi is the symbol that constantly reminds us of this apparently impossible identity. One should bow to Ganesha before one begins anything.

ganapathi 3

5.1. The Ganesha principle (tattva) transcends intellect. Yet, as in the case of other Indian deities, Ganesha too is represented through various symbols; mantras the sound representations; yantras the graphic representations; and the murtis icons or images.

5.2. The monosyllable AUM uttered at the beginning of every rite is said to be the sound image or the mantra representing Ganapathi. Its import “Thou art That” is symbolized by the unity in Ganesha image of the small and the Big.

ganapathi om ganapathi om 2

5.3. The Swastika is also said to be the graphic image of Ganesha. Its multiple arms all emanate from the common central point, Bindu. But, each arm is bent away and does not aim towards the centre. It is perhaps meant to suggest that we cannot reach the Bindu, the basic unity, directly through outward manifestations.

swastika swastika. 2 jpg

There is also a diagram called Ganesha yantra, used mainly for ritual worship. Ganapathi is regarded the synthesis of all the five elements. The earth element is represented by a square; the water by circle; fire by triangle; air by half-moon; and space by Bindu (point). It is said all these features can be found in the form of Ganapathi.

ganesha yantra

There is a close relation between Yoga and Tantra; and Ganapathi figures prominently in both the streams. He is the presiding deity of the Muladhara Chakra. It is also said; his tusk is Om-kara; his belly the great space; the serpent around his belly the Kundalini enclosing all; his rat the Rajo-guna; which Ganapathi controls riding on it.


5.4. It is said, Ganesha is obese to suggest that all manifestation is contained in him; and he is not contained. His ears are like winnowing trays, throwing away the dust of the vice and virtue, retaining only the Reality that is beyond qualities. Ganesha has one tusk, the word One is said to be the symbol of illusion (maya) from which all duality springs forth. The broken tusk is the impeller of illusion. The goad (ankusha) in his hand is for taming ignorance, while the noose (pasha) is caution against bondage.

His ride, the mouse is essentially a stealer, one who takes away things to which people are attached .The greatest attachment one can have is “I-ness”. The ride works at the behest of its master, the remover of illusions.

mouse rider

6. Ganesha is the lord of wisdom; the patron of letters and of schools; he is the king of the elders (Jyesta raja); and he is the first among the greats and presides over the assembly of gods. He is Vinayaka,  the great leader. He is the lord (Vigneshwara) and the destroyer of obstacles. He is Gananatha the lord of all categories. He rules over the universal intellect (maha tattva) and the elements (tattva) derived from it.


 Siddhi the attainment and Ruddhi the prosperity are his consorts.

siddhi.2 jpg

Ganapathi the ruler of all categories, I bow to you; you alone are the visible form of the principle. You are the creator; you alone are the sustainer; you alone are the destroyer; and you alone are unmistakably the Brahma, the essence of everything that exists, the true Self.  – Ganapathi Upanishad-

Tvam-Eva Pratyakssam Tattvam-Asi | Tvam-Eva Kevalam Kartaa-[A]si | Tvam-Eva Kevalam Dhartaa-[A]si |Tvam-Eva Kevalam Hartaa-[A]si | Tvam-Eva Sarvam Khalv[u]-Idam Brahma-Asi | Tvam Saakssaad-Aatmaa-[A]si Nityam ||2||

त्वमेव प्रत्यक्षं तत्त्वमसित्वमेव केवलं कर्ताऽसित्वमेव केवलं धर्ताऽसित्वमेव केवलं हर्ताऽसित्वमेव सर्वं खल्विदं ब्रह्मासित्वं साक्षादात्माऽसि नित्यम् ॥२॥

siddhi vinayaka

[Please also check Origins of Ganesha worship ]

[Please also check here for Sugar-cane Ganapathi by Dr. RKK Rajaraja]

Ganesha Halebedu

The pictures are from internet

[ Note on significance 21 associated with Ganapathi

The association of number twenty-one with Ganapathi has many interpretations. The most common of such explanations is  that  twenty-one is the sum of five gross elements(bhuta) + five subtle existential  principles or vital airs (pancha prana) + 5 subtle organs of perception (jnanendriya) + 5 sense-organs of action (karmendriya) + mind; suggesting that Ganesha is the Lord presiding over all the elements of existence.

The other suggestions are from Tantra, as Ganesha is basically a Tantric deity. According to Tantra, Ganesha’s ‘true-name’ (nija –naama) that is the effective name by which he is invoked is the Bija ’Gam’; his other names being the popular ones by which the people of the world love to call him (laukika). The Tantra Schools rely on an ancient system of notation which assigns numerical value to each consonant of the Sanskrit alphabet , for the purposes of inscribing on and designing various yantras as also for offering interpretations on the structures of the chakras and other graphical presentations. Of those systems, the Katapayadi which took strong roots in Kerala is considered the most authentic.  That system is also in use in the South Indian classical music.

The  Katapayadi, in a way, anticipated the hashing technique of Computer Science which derives a number from a non-numeric key for indexing into a table. For more on that, please check the following link; and, if possible, refer to the fourth section of a scholarly book: The Eastern mysteries, an encyclopedic guide to the sacred languages by David Allen Hulse.

According to Katapayadi, the Bija “Gam” has a numeric value of three (Ga =3; the Anusvara the dot and Anunasika  the dot within a crescent placed over the letter having no numeric value). Ganesha is thus associated with the number three , which sometimes is expressed as :2+1.

After having invoked Ganesha with his Bija Gam, the worshipper salutes his Lord with the chant: Ganapathaye namaha. The numerical value of that chant , according to Katapayadi  is twenty-one : ( ga =   3; Na=  5; pa =1;ta =6; ye=1; na=0; and mha =5).Please check the table  posted below.

Thus, it appears ,  is Ganesha’s  association  with numbers three and twenty-one.

This is , as I understand it; I could be wrong.]

Katapayadi Tables




Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Speculation


Tags: , , ,

Virabhadra, the auspicious hero


1.1. Virabhadra the auspicious hero raging like flaming fire is Shiva‘s ferocious instrument for destruction of ignorance, ritualism and dogma. Virabhadra, the Great Warrior,is the sublimation of Shiva’s impatience and anger; the embodiment of his resolute might; and is therefore regarded an aspect of Shiva in blazing mood burning down delusion and falsehood (samhara –murti).

1.2. It is said; Shiva represents pure-consciousness (jnana shakthi); Devi is the creative energy, the thought within his consciousness, the will to intend an act (itccha shakthi); and Virabhadra is the power of action (kriya-shakthi) the determined might to transform that will into an act. Virabhadra, the action-hero, personifies implicit faith, absolute devotion and reverence as also the ruthless efficiency in carrying out the command of his creator.

1.3. Virabhadra also symbolizes the sharp incisive power of discrimination, potent in each of us, to sever  attachments to conceited values, misplaced faith and the routines that we all run through thoughtlessly. He points out to our adulation of that which should not be esteemed; and to our neglect of that which ought to be valued. Virabhadra’s message is to open our heart, to embrace everything that life has given us, without fear or prejudice. Virabhadra destroys in order to save.

Veerabhadra shiva


Daksha – Shiva – Uma

2.1. The origin and the relevance of Virabhadra have to be appreciated in the context of the running feud between Daksha and Shiva spread over many eons, manvantara.   The two mighty personages represent two different realities, two divergent faiths, two separate streams of understanding and two opposed world orders.

2.2. Daksha meaning ‘able, competent, skilled ‘in performing rituals, is rooted in the propriety and the relevance of elaborate rituals; and in their techniques as prescribed in the scriptures. He is also a great believer in the organized  hierarchy of gods and the proper order of apportioning the oblation among various levels of gods. He is one of the Prajapatis and is sometimes regarded as their chief. He is charged with the responsibility of ensuring perpetuation of life on earth, as also the richness and dignity in life. He is a very prominent person of the established order; and, in fact, is at its very core. Daksha holding the office of Prajapathi was a lawgiver who formulated rules for conduct of behaviour in the society and norms for the orderly working of the society along the well respected traditional lines. The world order as envisaged by Daksha defined the precise role and conduct not merely of humans but of gods as well. He expected from all, reverence to his self and obedience to his law.  He would not tolerate subversive bunch of renegades who had scant regard for the social dignity and decorum. Daksha therefore represents the matter-of-fact logical mode of thinking, the way in which most of us would like to lead our lives.


2.3. Shiva, in contrast, was beyond the pale of normal society; and stood for everything that Daksha dreaded. Shiva was a Vratya, and the most distinguished among them, Ekavratya, an unorthodox hermit, who lived by his own rules, not always acceptable to traditional society. He refused to conform to the ways of the world.

3.1. Vratyas  were a community of dissenters, social rebels and ascetics living under a set of strange religious vows (Vrata). They totally rejected the Vedic rites and rituals. Vratyas followed their own cult-rules and practices; and did not care either for the rituals or for initiations (adhikshitah); and not at all for celibacy (Na hi brahmacharyam charanthi).They did not engage themselves in agriculture (Na krshim) or in trade (Na vanijyam).They behaved as if they were possessed (gandharva grithaha) or drunk or just mad. They roamed about the countryside and lived among the warriors, herdsmen and farmers. They were worshippers of Rudra, Isana or Mahadeva; and yet were regarded irreligious. In the words of Shri DSamapth, they were the ‘freethinkers who gave a very time and space based approach to the issues; and, were the initial social scientists with rationality as the anchor’.

3.2. Shiva, Rudra the wild one, like a true Vratya, wandered among cremation grounds with a rowdy bunch of renegades consuming intoxicants forbidden in polite society and slept amidst the warmth of burning funeral pyres. He sang and danced whenever and wherever he wanted to with little heed to decorum and protocol. Shiva refused to indulge in any social rule having pretentions of respect.  He had no home, no possessions, no family, no vocation; he was a drifter, ritually impure, unsuitable for married life.

4.1. Uma was the daughter of Himavat (Uma Haimavathi) by Menaka or Mena [In this version she is not related to Daksha]; she was desperately in love with Shiva but had a hard time persuading him to marry her. Shiva narrated all his disqualifications that failed to make him a dependable householder. Despite that, Uma followed Shiva wherever he went, over hills, across desolate plains and dense forests and through cremation grounds.


Shiva at first ignored Uma. He barely acknowledged her.  Uma finally told her reluctant lover, “It is for the good of both of us.You are incomplete without me and I am incomplete without you. I do not ask for anything, but you. I accept you for what you are, not deterred by what you do not have…I would like to observe with you”. Shiva could no longer be without his loving consort.

Parvathi as bride Shiva Groom

5.1. Daksha Prajapathi’s intense dislike of Shiva was because the latter was a vagrant, a tramp who had neither commitments nor sense of values in life. Daksha called  Shiva – a Kapalin having neither father nor mother, impure , incorrigible and proud abolisher of rites and demolisher of barriers; and, one who roams about in dreadful cemeteries, attended by hosts of ghosts and sprites, like a madman, naked, with disheveled hair, wearing a garland of skulls and ornaments of bones of the dead, pretending to be Siva (auspicious), but in reality is   a- Siva (inauspicious), insane, leader of the insane Bhutas (spirits), the wicked hearted whose nature is essentially darkness.’ Let this Bhava (Siva), lowest of the gods, never, at the worship of the gods, receive any portion along with the gods Indra, Upendra (Vishnu), and others’. Thus, Daksha had every reason to dislike Shiva. 

5.2. Uma’s perception of Shiva is of a different kind. It is non-judgmental absolute faith and intense love. There are no words to describe it otherwise. It obviously is unwise. But, that foolish wisdom is a precious gift of grace received in humility of mind and simplicity of heart; an un-bounded loving energy that transforms the world more effectively than the rhetoric. But, that rarely happens.

uma shiva uma shiva 2

6.1. The Daksha – Shiva conflict is more along the traditional lines, It is between establishment and anti-establishment. It occurs in every generation and all the time. It is the conflict between normal learning and intuitional understanding; between the conventional point of view and the transcendental experience; and between the man of the world and the one who has cast off all concerns and obligations.

6.2. The Indian traditions, for some reason, have always regarded content-less intuitional understanding and recognition of ‘what Is’ as being far superior to belief systems or a schools of thought. Our ancients always asserted that the immediate experience (sakshat aparoksha) which liberates is truly superior to  the  intellectual knowledge of scriptures, rites and rituals.  They explained it as the sort of experience that leads to the true understanding of the problems of being and becoming; that which aids to cross over all sorrows (shokasya param trayathi); and to realize one’s true identity. It is beyond the understanding of the intellect; it is experience (we shall return to this theme a little later).

6.3. The Daksha –Shiva conflict enacts the theme of limited formal learning giving place to expansive intuitional understanding. This theme manifests in life, in all ages, in various forms. The ego fears for its death, so it refuses to surrender to the heart. But, it eventually does give in.  The old sage Parashara wryly remarks “in every age Daksha and the rest are born and are again destroyed.”

6.4. The emergence of Virabhadra as Shiva’s instrument for destruction of Daksha’s small ’ego’ and for awakening of true understanding in him occurs when Daksha was born as the son of Prachetas and Marisha; and was designated as Prajapathi in age of Vaivasvata Manu.

Daksha yajna

7.1. The performance of the magnificent and most elaborate Brahaspathi – savana – yajna by Daksha Prajapathi must have been a highly significant event in the very ancient past. The Daksha story became a ground for fertile epic imagination. Countless versions of the event were described elaborately in various Puranas, epics and folk legends; each version, of course, bending the event to champion its own pet theme.

By all accounts, ‘Daksha’s sacrifice’ shook the old world and brought in a new world order. Shorn of prejudices and rhetoric, the legend indicates that Rudra-Shiva an unorthodox god stormed his way into the world of established order, secured there a prominent undisputed status among all gods and claimed a fair share of esteem and oblations that were due to him. It also amply demonstrates the futility and irrelevance of mere scriptural learning, rituals and sacrifices; and upholds the way of right-understanding as the means to liberation from all sorrows.

7.2. But the germ of the story seems to be in the Taittiriya Samhita(2.6.8) , where the gods, excluded Rudra from a sacrifice; and he pierced the sacrifice with an arrow; thereafter a ‘well offered yajna (svista)’ was submitted to Rudra. Gopatha Brahmana too carries a similar story where Prajapathi deprived Rudra of his share in the Yajna; then Rudra pierced the Yajna (prasitra) and gained his share. In these brief references, there is no mention of Daksha by name; and Rudra gains his share of the Yajna by force. There, of course, is no Virabhadra.

shiva on bull

7.3. There is another reference to Shiva and Daksha in Ramayana. The King Janaka describes the great bow Shiva Dhanus as the one wielded by Shiva when he threatened to destroy Daksha’s Yajna    because Devas had not offered Shiva a portion of the oblations. In this version of the legend also there is no mention of Rudra commissioning Virabhadra, or anyone else, to destroy the sacrifice or put the gods to flight. He is simply said to wound the gods with his bow.

8.1. All these references indicate that Shiva ( it is not clear if he was the same as the Rudra of the Rig Veda) who perhaps was  at the periphery was determined to break into the world of Vedic rituals , to be recognized as one of the major gods and to secure a fair portion of the Yajna because of the esteem associated with it.

8.2. The later epic –poets strung together these references; and spun amazingly elaborate and divergent tales around Shiva – Daksha Prajapathi conflict. The various Puranas were structured, basically, in two levels. One, Daksha and Shiva were projected as two opposite poles in the society; Daksha representing the establishment and Shiva the anti – establishment and everything that Daksha hated.

Uma the Devi was the gracious link of love that connected the two opposing worlds.

The other was the determination of the Devas to continue to keep Shiva out of the Vedic fold and to refuse him recognition within its orthodox framework by denying him a share of the Yajna; and Shiva’s repeated, determined and forceful efforts to secure the esteem which he thought was due to him. He does eventually succeed not merely in gaining acceptance but also in becoming the premier god in the Vedic pantheon revered with fair share of the Yajna oblations. Along with that, the Pashupathas stood to gain some   recognition within the Vedic fold, though it was conceded very reluctantly.

8.3. In addition, two other minor themes run through the narrations: One is the element of Shiva –Vishnu rivalry; and the other is the efforts of the Shaktha cult to use the events at Daksha-yajna in order to relate the origins of its Shakthi peethas and to base its legends.

8.4. There is however a dichotomy in these narrations; and it is not adequately explained. The followers of Shiva, mainly the Pashupathas, did not seem to have faith or respect for the Vedic rituals and their efficacy. Yet, they fight very hard, even by violence, to secure their leader a fair share in the Yajna and to see him established in the hierarchy of the Devas. And, eventually they agreed to become a part of the very Yajna which they set out to destroy.

8.5. In any case, several Puranas together have  woven a very complicated  ( at times confusing ) maze of  stories  involving assumed traditional proprieties, their alleged breach, disputed claims, divided loyalties and prejudices for and against Shiva or Vishnu; and, an undecided stand on the efficacy of Vedic rituals.

Narrations in Vayu Purana

9.1. Of the several versions of the Daksha Yajna, the narrations in Vayu Purana, perhaps the oldest of the extant puranas and in Mahabharata are restrained and comparatively brief. They describe, in substance, the waste of food and drinks stored for the Yajna and the burning of the Yajna.  Here, Devi is presented, without a preamble, as Parvathi or Uma daughter of Himavat (Uma Haimavathi) by Menaka or Mena . In this version she is not related to Daksha; she does not also visit the Yajna; and she does not die (out of grief at the insult directed at her husband).There are no references in these versions to the previous conflicts or the enmity that existed between Daksha and Shiva. Here, Shiva’s anger is directed not so much against Daksha as against the unfair arrangement devised by the Devas to deprive him of a share of the Yajna. He wills Yajna to be disrupted; but he does not command Virabhadra to kill Daksha. Shiva left to himself, perhaps, would have accepted the position as it were but for Devi who felt slighted and did not want to see her husband belittled by other gods.

9.2. Here, Uma is terribly unhappy that her husband is not invited to a great Yajna where all other gods participate joyously. And she anxiously enquirers why he does not proceed to the Yajna; what holds him back? Mahadeva replied ‘This is the contrivance that in all sacrifices no portion should be assigned to me’. Devi is filled with ‘deep sorrow and trembling’ and is hardly able to restrain as her husband ‘of unsurpassed splendor, glory and power’ is excluded from share of oblations. Then, after prodding from Parvathi, Shiva says “O queen of the gods, behold whom I shall create for the purpose of claiming my share of the oblation in the yajna”.

dasha yajna

10.1. He then creates Virabhadra from his mouth . In these versions; there is no beheading of either the Yajna who assumed the form of a deer or of Daksha. There is also no mention of beating up and mutilating various gods and sages assembled at the Yajna. Daksha at the end realizes his folly and submits to Shiva who pardons and grants him salvation. Yajna is concluded successfully. All ends well.

Lets us briefly go over the narrations as provided in Vayu Purana  and Mahabharata- Book 12: Santi Parva: Mokshadharma Parva.[ The following is extracted from  Prof.Wilson’s   translation of Vayu-Purana ] We can later have a brief look at the variations of the legend  as depicted in other Puranas.


virabhadra 2

10.2. “ Having spoken thus to his beloved the mighty Mahadeva created out of his mouth a most magnificent and frightening being glowing like the fire of fate (kaala-agni); a divine being with thousand heads , thousand eyes , thousand feet , thousand arms , wielding a thousand clubs, thousand shafts ; holding the shankha , chakra, mace, bearing a blazing bow and battle axe; fierce and terrible shining with dreadful splendour; decorated with crescent moon; clothed in tiger skin; dripping with blood; having a capacious stomach and a vast mouth armed with sharp protruding formidable tusks; his tongue was lightening; his hands brandished thunderbolt; flames streamed from his hair; a necklace of pearls wound around his neck; a garland of flames descended from his breast; radiant with luster he glowed brilliantly like the final-fire of destruction that consumes all existence.


Four tremendous tusks projected from his wide mouth extending from ear to ear; he was of vast bulk, vast strength a mighty war god and destroyer of universe and like a vast fig-tree in spread, shining like a hundred moons at once; fierce as the fire of love; sharp white teeth and mighty fierceness , vigour, activity and courage; glowing like a thousand fiery suns at the end of the world; like a thousand undimmed moons; in bulk like Himadri , Kailasa and Meru or Mandara with all its gleaming herbs ; bright as the sun at the end of ages; of irresistible power; beautiful aspects; irascible with lowered eyes and a countenance of burning sun; clothed in the hide of elephant and lion and girdle of snakes; wearing a turban on the head, moon in his brows.

10.3. Sometimes savage; sometimes benign; having a chaplet of flowers on his head; anointed with various fragrant perfumes adorned with variety of ornaments and many designs of jewels; wearing a heavy garland of karnikara flowers and rolling his eyes in rage.

cakra nālīkanārāca istomaraiḥ khaḍga mudgaraiḥ / vatsa dantaistathā bhallaiḥ karṇikāraiśca śobhanaiḥ // RKV_48.55 /

evaṃ na śakyate hantuṃ dānavo vividhāyudhaiḥ / tadā jvālā-karālāś-ca khaḍga-nārācatomarāḥ // RKV_48.56 //

Sometimes he danced wildly , sometimes he sang out aloud, sometimes he wept out uncontrollably; sometimes he spoke gently sweetly , meditated intensely; he was endowed with faculties of wisdom, dispassion , power, penance, truth, endurance , fortitude and self-knowledge.

10.4. Virabhadra of Rudra-manohara –rupa, of terrifying and the same time heart-warming form, born of Shiva’s potent mouth (Va.p.30.122) was thus like Purusha of Rig Veda of immense strength and splendour, a great being with a huge body the size of any mountain, ablaze and adorned with crescent moon.

virabhadra 3

10.5. His monstrous exterior disguised his true nature of vibrancy – full of wisdom, detachment, sovereignty, asceticism, truth, patientince, fortitude, lordship and self knowledge (Va.p.30.125-136).He greatly resembled Shiva whose emanation he was.

11.1. The mighty Virabhadra knelt down upon the ground in respect and raising his hands on to his head in reverence addressed Mahadeva “Sovereign of gods, Command me! What is it you desire me to do?” Mahadeva charged Virabhadra to “destroy the yajna of Daksha”

11.2. Then the powerful Virabhadra having heard of the pleasure of his Lord bowed down his head to the feet of his Master and jumping out like a lion loosed from shackles he rushed to despoil the Yajna of Daksha. The wrath of Devi took the form of the fearful Rudrakali. She accompanied Virabhadra with all her train to witness the destruction.

virabhadra.4 jpg vira devi

2.1. Virabhadra then created from the pores of his skin powerful demigods the Ganas the attenders on Rudra, of equal valour and strength, who poured out in hundreds and thousands. Then, a loud and confused clamour filled the air and heavens with dread. The mountains tottered , the earth shook, the winds roared wildly, the depths of the oceans were disturbed; the fires lost their radiance and the sun grew pale; the panels of the firmaments shone not; neither did the stars give light; Rishis  ceased their hymns; and gods and demons alike were muted; thick darkness enveloped the sky like blankets.

12.2. Virabhadra and his Ganas set out in chariots drawn by ten thousand lions. Among his bodyguards were Sixty-four groups of Yoginis, Shakhini, Dakhini, along with Bhutas, Pramathas (churn spirits) guhyaka (guardian of hidden treasures), Bhiravas, kshetrapalas and other types of spirits and fiends.

13.1. In the meantime, Dadhichi, one of the sages assembled at the Yajna is distressed when he learns that Rudra had not been invited. He queries Daksha, “Why do you not offer homage to the god who is the lord of life?” and remarks “The man who worships what ought not to be worshipped or pays not reverence where reverence is due , is guilty, most assuredly , of heinous sin”. To which, Daksha laughs and replies “I have already many Rudras present, armed with tridents, wearing braided hair, and existing in eleven forms. I recognize no other Mahadeva”. Dadhichi offended by Daksha’s reply walks out of the Yajna warning it would not be completed.

Destruction of the Yajna

destruction of yajna

14.1. Then the gloom emerged fearful and numerous hideous forms, shouting aloud frightening battle cries instantly broke and overturned the sacrificial altar and danced amidst the oblations. Running wildly hither and thither like hurricanes they tossed about the implements and vessels of the yajna. The piles of the wood and the beverages stocked for the Devas like little mountains; the rivers of milk; the banks of curds and butter; the sands of honey, buttermilk and sugar; the mounds of condiments and spices of every flavor; the undulating knolls of flesh and other vandals ; the mounds of celestial liquor , pastes and confections which had been prepared; these the spirits of wrath devoured with glee . Then falling upon the assembled Devas the vast and furious Rudras mocked and insulted the nymphs and quickly put an end to the Yajna.

14.2. His sacrifice being destroyed, Daksha overcome with terror and utterly broken in spirit fell upon the ground. The multitude of the assembled Devas in disarray cried out helplessly “O Rudras have pity on us thy servants; o lord dismiss thy anger”. They all pleaded “Declare who you are. Which Deva are you”.

Virabhadra shouted back “I am not a Deva or an Aditya; nor I come here for enjoyment; nor am I curious to see the various Devas. Know you all that I am here to destroy the despicable Yajna of Daksha; I am Virabhadra springing forth from the wrath of Rudra; Bhadra kali who sprang from the anger of Devi is sent here with her multitudes of spirits to destroy the yajna. Take refuge you all Devas and Rishis at the feet of Rudra the lord of Uma; f or better is the anger of Rudra than the blessing of the Devas (ymram Icrodho ‘pi devasya vara-danam na chanyatah)”.

14.3. Suppressing his vital airs – prana and apana- and taking a position of meditation, Daksha tried fixing his thoughts .Then god of gods, Mahadeva appeared out of the sacrificial altar resplendent as thousand suns , smiled upon him and said “Daksha your Yajna has been destroyed through the sacred knowledge. I am well pleased with you. What shall I do for you?”

Daksha yajna

14.4. Then Daksha frightened, distressed and alarmed fell on his four , his eyes suffused with tears and hands raised over his brows in reverence and submission pleaded with the mighty Lord ” If you are pleased with me , have mercy on me , confer me this boon, this is the blessing I beseech of you, all these provisions that have been prepared with much effort and time , which now have been eaten , drunken and destroyed by hosts may not have been prepared in vain”. “So be it” said the merciful lord. Whereupon the relieved Daksha fell upon the feet of Mahadeva and burst into hymns,  celebrating one thousand and eight names of the lord.”

Veerabhadra Nanjangudu

…and thereafter

15.1. The story, though it highlights vandalism and destruction, it is, in essence, the glorification of Shiva as the Supreme Lord. He destroyed the sacrifice from which the Devas had excluded him; and having destroyed it he made it the whole again and won his share. After the destruction of the Yajna the Devas lost their creative power. It is said; the Devas did not fully understand Mahadeva the great god, ferocious and kind at the same time; ruthless at one time, kind and benevolent at another; a demon and an ascetic. That is the pristine nature of Shiva.

15.2. As the Devas praised Shiva they all Pashus were relieved of their bonds and Shiva became their Lord Pashupathi. He gave back to each god his of creative power and understanding (Varaha Purana 21.78-82;33,25-28; and Mbh .10.18.22-23) . The gods recognized Shiva as the lord of the knowledge that liberates – Pashupathi.

15.1. In substance, the event was primarily a solemn Vedic event to which all important persons of that age were invited. Daksha who performed the yajna appeared a follower of Vishnu; and obviously there were many others who were not. A participant, perhaps a follower of the Pashpatha School which dominated the mountain areas, points out the lapse in not inviting Shiva and suggests that could be rectified by more equitable representation. Daksha annoyed at that, spurns the suggestion. But eventually Daksha learns his lesson the hard way; and submits to the strength of the Pahupathas .It was the triumph of Pashpatha; but then thereafter they seemed to soften their stern stand.

15.2.  In one of the Versions of the event, Nandisvara, an ardent follower of Mahadeva very strongly condemns Vedic rituals as also those who believe in it : ” let him, from a desire of vulgar pleasures, practice the round of ceremonies, with an understanding degraded by Vedic prescriptions. Forgetting the nature of soul, with a mind which contemplates other things, let Daksha continue to exist in this world of  ceremonial ignorance. Let the enemies of Rudra whose minds are disturbed by the flowery words of the Veda, become deluded! Let those Brahmans, eating all sorts of food, professing knowledge and practicing austerities and ceremonies merely for subsistence, delighting in riches and in corporeal and sensual enjoyments, wander about as beggars! “

15.3. The sage Bhrigu  spokesperson of the orthodox who were present at the sacrifice launched a counter attack and cursed the Pashupathas : ‘Let those who practice the rites of Bhava (Mahadeva)  having lost their purity, deluded in understanding, wearing matted hair, and ashes and bones, let them undergo the initiation of Shiva, in which spirituous liquor is the deity ”. The Pashupathas that Bhrigu described might be the forerunner of the Naga Sadhus of all weird appearances who throng the Kumbha Mela.

Aghori and Kanphata Yogi

6.1. As if to justify Brighu’s curse, the Pashupathas and various schools of Avadhutas emerged strongly after the Daksha –yajna episode. And, despite their heretical stand they gained acceptance within the Vedic traditions as the essence of the most sublime spiritual wisdom. For instance, the classical texts Avadhuta –GitaAstavakra -Gita and similar other texts celebrate the glory of one who has no use for social etiquette, not bound by any dharma, never knows any mantra in Vedic meter or any ritual; and having renounced all, he moves about naked, roams the earth freely like a child, like an intoxicated or like one possessed; perceives the Absolute, the All, within himself.

These extreme schools decried scriptural learning: There are no divine scriptures, no imperative religious practices; there are no gods, no classes or races of men, No stages of life, no superior or inferior; there’s nothing but Brahman, the supreme Reality. He is the embodiment of detachment and spiritual wisdom.

[ It is said; Pashupathas should be viewed as distinct from Kapalikas who practice extreme forms of Tantra. The Pashupathas are said to be inspired by wisdom and shun hideous ritual-practices.]


16.2. Shakthas who along with Pashupathas perhaps had strong presence in the mountain regions emerged stronger after the Daksha-yajna. The Daksha-Yajna  lore provided them a base for building their  legends and temple -chains of Shakthi Pithas .These legends grew rapidly ; and the Pithas associated with Devi’s organs and ornaments  soon grew from four to one hundred and eight. The lists of Shakthi Pithas varied from text to text and from region to region. And, eventually, Shakthas too moved into the inner circle of the tradition through various forms of Tantra and Sri Vidya; and laid claim in the Vedic rituals. Later, the cults of Shiva and Devi drew close to each other ; and their merger was symbolized by Shiva-Shakthi, Ardha-narishwara formed by two halves- one each of Shiva and Devi . On a metaphysical level it was the union of the active and passive principles in the universe.

Shakti 2

Karaikkal Ammaiyar

17.1. A branch of the Pashupatha cult spread to the South India in its moderate form. It came to be celebrated as the sublime and mysterious Siddha tradition of South. The Siddha is one who has attained flawless identity with reality.

17.2. I cannot resist mentioning here the  remarkable Karaikkal Ammaiyar (sixth century) the forerunner of the Siddha tradition  in the South  and who  in the prime of her youth abandoned the respectable life of a traditional dutiful wife  and chose to embrace  extreme asceticism of unswerving devotion to Shiva in his terrible Bhairava form.

This amazing woman was born as Punitavathi into an affluent trading family in the coastal town of Karaikkal, Tamil Nadu. She had to give-up her home, hearth and husband because of rupture in her domestic life. Punitavathi rejected the social and domestic world of conventions and obligations. She then took shelter in the cremation ground as one of Shiva’s Gana, an adoring ghoulish attendant. Punitavathi beseeched Shiva to divest her of the burden of her flesh asking only that she watch him dance into eternity. It is said; a miracle occurred:  In place of the young woman stood an emaciated hag. She even began to look like an emaciated frightening attendant of Bhirava haunting the cremation ground. Known from henceforth as Mother of Karaikkal (Karaikkal Ammaiyar) she came to regard the cremation ground as the truly beautiful place of liberation and the ideal abode to dwell in peace with the Lord of Universe. From then on she wrote poetry in praise of Shiva.

The ground is damp with liquid marrow–
Skeletal ghouls with sunken eyes
jostle and elbow–
looking furtively around them
extinguishing the fires
with gleeful hearts
they eat half-burned corpses–
There, in that menacing forest
holding fire in his hand
dances our beautiful lord.

(Vidya Dehejia, Antal and Her Path of Love:  Poems of a Woman Saint from South India, 1990)


Seated Saint Karaikkal Ammaiyar Chola period, 12th century;Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This image portrays her not as a fearsome figure but as a once-beautiful woman who has lost her flesh. Her calm, smiling face expresses her inner peace while she blissfully plays her cymbals and sings to the glory of Shiva.

17.3. Ammaiyar in her poetry asserts that to know Shiva, ones state in life or ones gender is irrelevant; but one should truly transcend the limitations of ordinary human awareness and should give up a life rooted in conventions, attachments and rituals.  She does not talk of temples, worship, rituals etc; and she criticizes those who vainly attempt to know Shiva through hallow rituals.

Liberation from cycle of rebirth and to attain the nature of Shiva is the aim of Shaiva-siddantha. Ammaiyar exhorts devotees to meditate in intense devotion   on Shiva the ultimate truth and the only means to salvation.

kala bhairava

17.4. Through her powerful poetry, Karaikkal Ammaiyar proclaims that the horrific cremation ground is indeed the cosmos; and the terrifying form of Shiva performing his dance of destruction is really the most sublime and blissful expression  of the Lord. She makes the terrible look beautiful. Ammiyar asks one to go  beyond terror and revulsion associated with the dreadful cremation ground ;  to regard it  as the theater of Shiva’s dance of life and death ;  and as  the sacred grove of liberation from this world. It is where one overcomes fear of death and the fear of losing attachments.   She explains cremation ground as the state of one’s mind, as the space in ones heart where the ego and ignorance are burnt to ashes over which Shiva dances in delight the dance of destruction. She urges the seeker to revere Shiva as the beautiful embodiment of the rhythm of life, as the destroyer of our illusions, as the conqueror of death, as pure consciousness and the ultimate sovereign of the universe.

In the cemetery where you hear crackling noises
And the white pearls fall out of the tall bamboo,
The ghouls with frizzy hair and drooping bodies,
Shouting with wide-open mouths,
Come together and feast on the corpses.
In the big, threatening cremation ground,
When The Lord dances,
The Daughter of the Mountain watches Him,
In astonishment.
 (Tiruvalankattu mutta tirupatikam, 2.8)

17.5. Kariakkal Ammaiyar’s poetry is filled with vivid images of Shiva as the heroic god whose grace rescues his devotees from sorrows of the world. Bones are a central liberation motif in Karaikkal Ammaiyar’s poetry. Shiva adorns himself with a garland of bones he finds in the cremation ground.

Ghouls with flaming mouths and rolling, fiery eyes,

Going around, doing the tunankai dance,
Running and dancing in the terrifying forest,
Draw out a burning corpse from the fire and eat the flesh

17.6. Karaikkal Ammaiyar’s extreme asceticism (Pashupatha) portrays the state where the seekers strived, in body and spirit, to be Shiva the terrible Bhairava residing   in the cremation ground. Ammaiyar’s way of life and her teachings represent the early phase of Tamil Shaiva tradition before it transformed into a temple-based orthodoxy. It is said; because of its extreme views, Karaikkal Ammaiyar’s poetry is not normally sung in Shiva temples today along with the devotional hymns of the Tevaram poets.

Think of our Lord all the time

One who shines like a leaping golden flame;
With complexion of setting sun and of a smoldering fire.
Think of Our Father with the gleaming throat,
Who wanders around with the strong ghouls
His lotus-like body smeared with ash and garlanded with
Snakes and bones of others.
Happily Dances at night in the fire
With the kalal jangling and the anklets tinkling
His body cool with Ganga on his head,
A moonbeam in his long matted hair
A radiant flame in his beautiful hand
 His streaming hair flying in all eight directions.
All those who do not understand that he is the real Truth,
Have seen only his ghoul form.
But those who take refuge in him with wisdom
Will not be born here in this world in a body with bones.

[For more on Karaikkal Ammiaiyar, please read The Anatomy of Devotion: The Life and Poetry of Karaikkal Ammaiyar   by Professor Elaine Craddock; Department of Religion and Philosophy; Southwestern University, TX]


The other Versions of Daksha Yajna legend

daksha yajna

18.1. As mentioned earlier, the legend as narrated in Vayu Purana is simpler and more restrained. The story however gets complicated and more violent in other Puranas.  For instance, in Kurma Purana, Sati is described as the daughter of Daksha prajapathi who is unhappy with Shiva his son-in-law because Daksha thought Shiva did not offer him the respect he deserved. And when Sati his daughter visits him next, Daksha abuses Shiva and turns Sati out of his house. Sati in deep sorrow and anguish gives up her life. Shiva on hearing the horrible news curses Daksha. Shiva then did penance and obtained Sati again reborn as Parvathi daughter of Parvatha-raja. She also undertook penance to obtain Shiva as her husband. It is in her next birth that the much talked about Yajna takes place. The Linga, Matsya, Skanda, Padma and Bhagavatha puranas mention of disputes between the daughter and her father in greater detail and say that Sati put an end to herself out of devotion and love to her husband.

It is only in Kasi kanda, a long poem, forming a part of the Skanda Purana that Sati throws herself into fire. This could be an improvement over Vayu purana and other versions.


18.2. The exploits of Virabhadra and his Ganas are more particularly described in the Linga, Skanda and Bhagavata puranas. Here, on hearing of the death of Sati, Shiva enraged produced out his wrath a terrible form of Virabhadra and asked him to destroy Daksha’s Yajna. Bhagavata Purana adds a more picturesque creation of Virabhadra (4.5.3).Shiva pulls out locks of matted hair and strikes against the mountain rocks. However, In Kurma purana it is the Devi who requests Shiva to create Virabhadra. According to Mahabharata, Virabhadra was born out of Shiva’s brow (Mbh.12.274.36-38)

18.3. The destruction and violence are particularly described in these texts.  Indra is knocked down and trampled upon; Yama has his shaft broken ; Saraswathi and Maitra have their noses cutoff ; Mitra or Bhaga has his eyes pulled out; Pusan has his teeth thrust down his throat ;Chandra is pummeled; Agni’s hands are cut off ;Bhrigu loses his beard ;the Brahmanas are pelted with stone; Prajapathi is beaten up; and all Devas and semi Devas run through the swords, struck with trident or pierced with arrows.

Harivamsa mentions that the Ganas made a hideous clamour and others furiously shouted, when Yajna began to fly up to heavens in the shape of a deer; and Virabhadra cut of its head which then settled in the heavens as the star Mriga-shira.

Shiva Purana mentions that Virabhadra pulled out Daksha who was hiding behind the altar, cut off his head and threw it into the sacrificial fire pit, the last sacrificial offering (Sp.2.2.37-61).Another version mentions that Virabhadra gave the severed head to Mahakali who played with it. Later, it is said, at Shiva’s instructions the gods put the head of the sacrificial goat on the decapitated body of Daksha. Shiva glanced at the goat head and Daksha came alive, as if waking from a deep sleep.

daksha. shiv aj pg

In another version Daksha’s sacrifice was destroyed by Shiva himself; and he danced the dance of death in the evening (Ns.4.234)

18.4. The Vayu Purana does not mention of the conflict between Shiva and Vishnu or the fight of Vishnu with Virabhadra .In the Linga purana , Vishnu’s head is severed and his head is thrown into the sky. The Kurma purana is less irreverent towards Vishnu; it mentions about Vishnu’s conflict with Virabhadra but Brahma intervenes and separates the contestants. The Kasi Kanda of the Skanda Purana describes Vishnu as defeated and at the mercy of Virabhadra .But Virabhadra is directed from heavens not to destroy Vishnu .

According to Hari Vamsa , a fight ensued between Vishnu and Shiva during which Vishnu grasped Shiva’s throat and caused black rings marks (suggesting it was not by poision he consumed after the churning of the ocean).

18.5. In every version of the legend a  reconciliation takes place between Daksha and Shiva at the end. Daksha free from malice invites Shiva to preside over the Yajna and sings his praise. But each Purana bends the Daksha Yajna legend to suit its own pet theme and to further its cause.

Virabhadra Iconography

virabhadra 5

19.1. Virabhadra is described as great warrior and one the trusted generals of Shiva. He is also the protector of sages. The puranas attribute to Virabhadra number of exploits against demons and the benevolent acts performed for protection of the holy ones. As an auspicious god, Virabhadra is worshipped greatly in Karnataka, Andhra and Maharashtra regions where numbers of temples are dedicated to Virabhadra.

19.2. The images of Virabhadra appear in the temples of ninth and tenth centuries   sculpted in the deva koshta (niches) figures of gods on the temple walls. In the earlier period they appear as four armed images. And later they expand into eight armed or  ten armed images of Virabhadra holding khadga, shula, parashu, dhamaru, bow and arrow etc .

19.3. The cult of Virabhadra – the ferocious and formidable aspect of Shiva- was popular among the warriors of the Vijaynagar period. Virabhadra was the mascot, the war- cry and the inspiration of the armies and fighting forces of Vijaynagar.The Virabhadra temples proliferated in the Vijayanagar region mainly in Karnataka, Andhra and southern parts of Maharashtra.

20.1. The awe-inspiring form of Virabhadra is described in various Puranas narrating the tale of Daksha Yajna. His description narrated in Vayu Purana is highly picturesque (as can be seen from the earlier paragraphs).The Shilpa – texts too provide the iconographic features of Virabhadra. But, these relate to worship-worthy images installed in temples. Let’s briefly see a couple of such details.

virabhadra. 6 jpg

20.2. The Silpasangraha mentions three varieties of Vlrabhadra (viz. sattva, tamasa and rajasa) with two, four or eight arms. All are dark in color and fierce looking. The Seated figures of Vlrabhadra are called Yoga-Vlra, his standing figures, Bhoga- Vlra and those in a walking posture, Vlra-Vira.

In the first, Vlrabhadra holds a sword and shield and is seated  in sukhasana with one leg folded on the pedestal and the other hanging down.

virabhadra. 7 jpg

In the second posture he exhibits the bow and arrow, sword and khetaka. On the leg is worn the anklet of heroes. The head is adorned with a crown, in the middle of which is represented a linga. A garland of skulls-munda mala –  decorates the neck. On the right side is the image of Daksha with folded arms.

In the Vira- Vlra figures, Vlrabhadra holds the trident (shula), sword (khadga), arrow (bana) and the deer (mriga) on the right side and the skull (kapala), shield (khetaka), bow (dhanus) and the goad (gadha) on the left.

In the form of Shiva as Dakshinamurti ,Bhikshatanamurti or Virabhadra , he is depicted as a wandering mandicant.

In his Digambara Form, his body is adorned with many snakes  ( bhujanga-gana-bhushana ) and his third eye is awesome. His eye brows are knit in anger and his hair is spread out  like flames ( Jvala-kesa ). His body is smeared with the and he carries a Gada ( Club ) and Trishula ( Trident ).

In Sapta-Matrka Panels, Virabhadra is in the right end and Ganapathi is in the left end flanking the Seven Mother Goddesses in between.

Avarana krama for Maha prasada Vidya described in the Krama Tantra (a tantra of the Shaiva School) mentions in its tenth avarana (enclosure) various forms of Virabhadra: Chaturbhuja Virabhadra; Ashtabhuja Virabhadra; Dashabhuja Virabhadra; Rana Virabhadra; Shodashabhuja Virabhadra; Dwatrimshadbhuja Virabhadra; Aghora Virabhadra

20.3. The Pancharatragama describes Vlrabhadra as dark in color, having three eyes and holding in- his four arms a sword, arrow, bow and club.He wears a garland of skulls and has sandals on his feet. A yellow garment is tied round his loins.

20.4. Karanagama  describes Virabhadra as one who redeems our Sins, relieves all our sufferings, and mentions  that the image of Virabhadra-murti should have four arms, three eyes, head covered with unruly mass of hair (jata-bhara) emitting flashes of lightening and fire, side tusks, wearing garlands of skulls, bells and scorpions. His face should be red blazing like fire, with an angry and fearsome countenance.His neck is blue.  A snake should form his yajnopavitha .He should be  adorned with beautiful anklets, heavy footwear. He should be dressed in tight shorts – a sort of knickers. His four hands should carry a broad sword (khadga), shield (khetaka), the bow (dhanus) and arrows (bana).

virabhadra. 8 jpg virabhadra. 9 jpg

20.5. Sritattvanidhi,an amazing iconographic treatise of the 19th century commissioned by the then Maharaja of Mysore Sri Krisharaja Wodeyar III (1794 – 1868) mentions that Virabhadra-murti should have four arms, three eyes, terrifying face with fierce side tusks.He should hold in his right hands a broadsword (khadga) and an arrow (bana); and in his left a bow (dhanus) and a mace (gadha).He should be adorned with garlands of skulls, costumes of a warrior and thick footwear. On to the  left of Virabhadra a figure of Bhadra Kali should be depicted. And, on his right a figure of Daksha with a goat-head with horns should be standing with folded hands (anjali –mudra).

20.6. Virabhadra is also depicted with ten arms ; three of the five arms on the right holding an arrow (bana), axe (parashu) and sword (khadga) .In his hands on the left he holds a mace (musala), a bow (dhanus),a lasso (pasha) , a shield (khetaka) and another long sword.The Shilparatna describes him as having eight hands and riding on vetala  (a demon) surrounded by his ganas (nija gana sahita).His complexion is white and is fearsome.   His disheveled hair is flying like wild fire; and he is clad in tiger skin. He stamps on Daksha symbolizing suppression of dogma and ignorance.

virabhadra. ten arms jpg virabhadra. ten arms 1 jpg

Dhyana-Shloka of Virabhadra

21. In the Dhyana shlokas of Virabhadra is virtually the Shiva. He is described as having white complexion, holding a mriga (deer), veena etc and adorned with snakes.

 Following are some of such Dhyana slokas.

21.1. Svethangam Sesha Bhushangam Khadga Veena dharam Subham /
Drutakrishnamrigam veeram Shaardhoolajidhavasam //
Arthonmeelita Netram dham Trinetramcha Jadataram /
Suganthi Pushpamalam Sri Veerabhadram Namamyaham //

I worship the White complexioned Virabhadra, with half closed eyes along with the third eye in his forehead, his matted hair locked as Jatamakuta. He is   adorned with snake- ornaments, tiger skin and garlands of fragrant flowers; holding  an  antelope.

21.2. Shannetram Trimugam Bheemam Kalamegha Samaprabham /
Udharsijvalanam Neelaghatram Shatbhahu Shobinam //
Banapatrasi Soolekshu Chapa Khadga dharam Subham /
Bhoothapretadhi Dhamanm dushtarati vinasanam /
Meru vasam Mahesam tam Veerabhadram Namamyaham //

I worship the Black complexioned Virabhadra in a Fierce form with three faces, six eyes, his hair-locks flaming as fire. His six arms hold Banapatra (arrow-case), sword, trishula, bow, arrow; and he blesses all who worship him. He tames and controls Bhutas and Pretas (demons and goblins), and destroys the evil and dwells forever in the Hill of Meru.

21.3  Chaturbhujam trinetram cha Jatamakuta manditham /
Saravabharana samyuktham swethavarnam vrushadvjam //
Soolam cha abhaya Hastham cha dakshinedhu karatvayam
Gadha varadha hastham cha Vama parshvey karathvayam //
Swetha Padmasanasoonam Vatavriksha Samasritam /
Veerabhadram Ithikyadam Brahmi roopam dhadha shrnu //

(Dhyana-Shloka  in Amsumadbeda-agama)

I worship the White complexioned Lord Virabhadra with four arms, three eyes, Jatamakutam, adorned with ornaments  , sporting a flag carrying a nandi image .In his right he holds  Trisula and gestures  Abhaya mudra ; and in his left he has a gadha and gestures Varadha mudra. He is sitting under the vata Tree, on a White Lotus seat…

21.4. Marakata Manineelam Kinginee Jalamaalam /
Prakasita Mugameesam Bhanu Soma-Aagni Netram ://
Hariharamasikedatraya Kradhandakra Hastham /
Vidhudharam ahi Bhusham Veerbhadram Namami : //

I worship Lord Veerabhadra, of Blue-Black complexion, in a fierce looking form of Shiva with the Sun, Moon and Agni as three eyes representing the Vibhuti of both Shiva and Vishnu,  wearing the crescent Moon in his hair , Serpent garlands , ornaments  of bells, and holding the sword, shield and club.

21.5. Akasha-Virabhadra Mantra :-

Kalarudra Rushihi /Jagadhee Chandaha /Veerabhadra Devata / Vam Beejam / Hoom Shakthihi /

21.6. Mula Mantra:

O Namo Veerabhadraya Vairi Vamsha Nivinasaya Sarvaloka Bayankaraya Beema Veshaya Hoom Phat Vijaya Vijaya Hreem Hoom Phat Svaha ׀


I bow down to Lord Virabhadra who is as fierce as Yama at the end of Kalpa

and whose terrible laughter causes the worlds to tremble,

for destroying my fears in crossing the terrible ocean of sorrows

— Amogha Sadashiva kavacha


References and sources

The original Daksha saga by Klaus Klostermaier

The Presence of Siva  By Stella Kramrisch

Genealogy of the South-Indian gods: a manual of the mythology and religion … By Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg,

The Horse-sacrifice of the Prajapati Daksha Kisari Mohan Ganguli  Book 12: Santi Parva: Mokshadharma Parva: Section CCLXXXIV.The Mahabharata  translated by

The Anatomy of Devotion: The Life and Poetry of Karaikkal Ammaiyar

Professor Elaine Craddock; Department of Religion and PhilosophySouthwestern University, TX

All images are from internet 



Posted by on September 29, 2012 in Iconography, Indian Philosophy


Tags: , , , , , ,

The Rudras Eleven


Namaste! Thank you for the wonderful note on Dvarapalas. Can I ask you for one more? Could you please give me info – texts, descriptions or images – of 11 forms of Rudra? I am artist, I need to draw and paint them, but I don’t know how they look. Thank you. Atma-Raga

Dear Atma-Raga, Welcome. Thank you for asking. This again is an interesting question ; and is  a tough one to answer. It needs a rather lengthy explanation. But at the end, I fear, it might leave you a bit disappointed. There are various versions of the origin of Rudra, etymology of the term, types of Rudras, their names, attributes and their iconographic representations. It is virtually impossible to detail all the versions in a blog. One has therefore, by sheer necessity, to be very selective. That might not please all or answer all questions. Further, the descriptions of the features of the Rudras in various texts are not uniform. And, in many cases they are incomplete too.

In any case, please read on…

 May I suggest you  listen to  Rudram while you read?,  You may  Please   select rudra namakam chamakam    by Sri M.N. Venkata Sastry   on

A. Rudra

Rudra in Vedas

1.1. The earliest mentions of Rudra occur in the Rig Veda, where three entire hymns are devoted to him.

It is said that there are as many as seventy-five references to Rudra in the Rig-Veda Samhita. Most of those occur in the First and the Second Books.

[For details please see Notes below@]

Rudra is a divinity of the mid-sphere

2.1. Rig Veda mentions a set of thirty-three deities. According to Yaska-charya, the thirty-three gods are divided equally in three different planes of existence namely the celestial plane (dyuloka) the intermediate region (antariksha-loka) and the terrestrial region (bhur-loka) each plane having eleven gods.

There is however a slight variation among the different traditions in naming the thirty-three most eminent deities (trayastrimsati koti). According to the Shatapatha Brahmana, these thirty-three deities include eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adityas, Dyaus, and Prithvi.

aṣṭau vasavaḥ | ekādaśa rudrā dvādaśā-adityā ime eva dyāvā-pṛthivī trayastriṃśyau  trayastriṃśadvai devāḥ – Sp.Br.

While, Yaska-charya mentions: eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adityas and two Asvinis.

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad the Rishi Yajnavalkya at one stage says “The eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adityas, Indra and Prajapati are the thirty-three gods”.

aṣṭau vasava ekādaśa rudrā dvādaś-ādityāḥ ta ekatriṃśad aindraś caiva prajāpatiś ca trayastriṃśāv iti || BrhUp_3,9.2 ||

2.2. In Rig Veda, Rudra is one of the intermediate level gods (antariksha devata). He is a divinity of the subtle world, the sphere of space, the mid sphere between the spheres of  earth and the Sun (Rig Veda 5.3).

Yaska also classifies Rudra along with Marutas as the deities of the mid-region (Madhyama-sthana-devatah)

tata.āgacchati.madhyama.sthānā.devatā.rudraś.ca.marutaś.ca /Nir. 7,23

Rudra (the howling one) as a divinity associated with winds represents life-breath (prana-vayu). Rudra is thus the principles of life.

Rudra is the intermediary between physical elements and the intellect.

Rudra is thus a deity of the intermediate stage. He presides over the second ritual of sacrifice, the mid-day offering, the second period of man’s life (say from 24 to 50).

[ Another interesting feature is that in the hymns of the Rig-Veda specially devoted to Rudra (RV: 1.114  (imā rudrāya tavase); 2.33 (pra jāyemahi rudra prajābhiḥ); and 7.46 (imā rudrāya sthiradhanvane)  the proper name of Rudra never appears either in the beginning or at  the end of the Pada  ; but , it is always hidden in the middle , often suggested by its sound -hints.

For example; the hymn 2.33 contains fifteen instances of Rudra ( once in each stanza); but, none at the beginning or the end of the Pada (line). Let’s say, the first Pada of 2.33.1 commences with the address Pitar_Marutam (Father of Maruts). In the fourth Pada of the same stanza the name ‘Rudra’ is hidden between the noun Praja (Praja-yemathi Rudra Praja-bhih) meaning:  ‘ we want to be reborn  Oh Rudra in our children.’ Similarly, in stanza 2.033. 4a: ma tva Rudra cukrudhamanamobhir ma duÍeuta vaÍabha ma sahat (Let us not anger thee, O Rudra, with our improper praise …)  is hidden in the middle. ]

The howler

3.1.Yajnavalkya, in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, queries :  Katame  rudra  iti:   “Who are the Rudras?” ; and , then  goes on to explain “The ten vital energies in the body (Dasame puruse prana) ;and the Atman make eleven (atma-ekadashah). These are the Rudras.””When the energies and the soul leave the body, they make one cry in anguish.” While a person is alive, these eleven: the senses and the mind, subject the individual to their demands, and make him cry in agony if he violates their laws.

katame rudrā iti | Dasame puruse prana atma-ekadashah te yadasmath sariram martyad utkranta-mantyatha rodhayanti tad yad rodhayanti tasmad Rudra iti – Br.Up: 3.9.4

Chandogya Upanishad also calls Rudra the howler or the red one as  Prana , the cause of tears, because : ”verily, the vital breaths are the cause of the tears, for on departing they cause everyone to lament in tears” (Chandogya Upanishad 3.16.9).

Prana vava Rudra ete hidam sarvam rodayanti


Rudra by Pieter Weltevrede

( Rudra by Pieter Weltevrede)


4.1. The etymology of the word Rudra is interpreted variously; and at times it is rather confusing. Its etymology has led the  scholars into all sorts of wild chase.

Rudra, in Rig-Veda, is a god of the storm, the wind, and the hunt. His distinctive characteristics are his fierce weapons and his medicinal powers. He is the ‘archer’ (sarva – sarv – which means ‘to injure’ or ‘to kill’), the ‘bowman’ (dhanvin) armed with fast-flying arrows (ashu – bana-hastha).

The name Rudra has been translated as ‘roarer’, ‘howler’, ‘wild one’, ‘the fierce god’ and ‘terrible’. The alternate etymology suggested as derived from the root rud is: ‘to be Red, Brilliant’, ‘to be ruddy’ or ‘to shine’. Rudra is sometimes identified with the god of fire-Agni.

Rudra is also used both as a name of Shiva, synonymous with Bhava, Sarva, Ugra and Mahadeva.

Rudra also means ‘Father of the Maruts’ (ā te pitar marutāṃ – RV 2.33.1); and collectively “the Rudras” is used to mean ‘the sons of Rudra’ or the Maruts.

According to a commentary on Vishnu Sahasranama (ascribed to Sri Sankara?),Rudra means ‘One who makes all beings cry at the time of cosmic dissolution’.

Alternatively, Rudra means ‘One who gives speech’.

Rudra also means ‘one who drives away sorrows’.

And , finally Rudra relieves  one of worldly woes (Kapardin)

There are also other sublime interpretations of the term Rudra.  It is said:

– Rudra is one who dispels (Dravayati)   illusions or maladies (Rujum) through his light (Ru).

– Rudra is one towards whom all the words of praise (Ru) are directed (Draghatau)

– Rudra is one who bestows (Rati dadati) knowledge (Rut) – Rut jnanam rati dadati iti Rudrah

In other contexts, Rudra can simply mean ‘the number eleven’.

C. Rudra in the Rig-Veda Samhita is a highly complex divine character

5.1.  Rudra in the Rig-Veda Samhita is a highly complex divine character with contradictory qualities; and yet harmonizing within himself all contradictions.

(I) The magnificent verses composed by the Rishi Grisamada (RV. 2.33) hails the merciful (jalasa) Rudra as the ‘best of all the physicians (bheajebhi, bheshaja shiromani ) – Vaidyanatha (RV 2.33.4).

He is said to possesses healing remedies – jalasa-beshaja (RV 1.43.4); and, thousand medicines and strengthening balms (jálāabheajam) – (RV 7.46.3). 

His gracious hand bestows health and comfort.

Prayers are submitted to Rudra : “Do thou with strengthening balms incite our heroes”. He is requested not to afflict children, men and cattle with disease (RV 7.46.2); and , to keep villages free of illness (RV 1.114.1).

  • :-  pashunam ma bhermaro mo eshham kinchanamamat ;
  •  :-Manastoke tanaye ma na ayushhi ma no goshhu ma no ashveshhu ririshhah ;
  • :- Aratte goghna utta purushhaghne kshayadviraya sumnamasme te astu

Rishi Grisamada adores Rudra as the blissful god of all created beings, the mightiest of the mighty who rests in his own glory. In him, the sovereign (Isana) of this world; the power of divinity (Asurya) is inherent; and, from him that power never departs. The hymns beseech Rudra to ‘transport us over miseries to well-being’. He prays to Rudra: ‘As one who finds shade in blazing sun, may I , unharmed, win the grace of Rudra ‘ (RV.2.33.6)

ghrnī̍va cchā̱yāma̍ra̱pā a̍śī̱yā vi̍vāseya ru̱drasya̍ su̱mnam II 2.33.06 II

Rudra is also Shiva the auspicious one who is easily pleased (Ashutosha) with simple adulation. He is also Prachetasa (exceedingly wise); Midustama (the highest of all); and Ishana (the overlord).  Rudra is also Svayambhu (self-generatedRV.7.84.4 –  and Trayambaka  (three eyed like the Sun or as having three mothers) – RV.7.59.19.  

Rudra is known for his wealth.  He is also associated with Aditya (sun) and Agni. He is addressed as the thousand-eyed one (saharaksha) holding thunderbolts. He is associated with the dramatic fierceness of the thunderstorm and lightening which strike at men and cattle, but which through the rain brings forth peace and plenty.

As for the fierce power of the Rudra , all the four hymns mention it; and pray to Rudra not to inflict his wrath upon the humans and the animals ; and , at other times requesting Rudra to ward off evil and to provide protection against wicked forces. 

In a hymn (7. 46), Rishi Vasistha admires the wise and compassionate Rudra wielding a firm bow and swift arrows to chasten the unrighteous. Thus, even while Rudra is ferocious, he acts as the upholder of the moral order ; and the protector of the good .

 imā rudrāya sthira-dhanvane giraḥ kṣipreṣave devāya svadhāvne / aṣāḷhāya sahamānāya vedhase tigm-āyudhāya bharatā śṛṇotu naḥ ||RV_7,046.01 ||


shiva tandava

(II). And, Rudra is also “fierce like a formidable wild beast” (RV 2.33.11).     He is associated with  thunderstorm and lightening; traverses everywhere like lightening – arhann idaṃ dayase viśvam abhvaṃ na vā ojīyo rudra tvad asti . He is fierce  Goghana,  Purushagna  and  Kasyad-vira RV. 1.114.10 – (slayer of animals and men; and lord valiant heroes).  He is not purely benefic like other Rig Vedic gods, but he is not malevolent either. Rudra is thus regarded with a kind of cringing fear and respect . He punishes and at the same time he rescues his devotees from trouble. One appeals to “mighty Rudra, the god with braided hair (kapardin)” for mercy and protection (RV 1.114).

imā rudrāya tavase kapardine kṣayadvīrāya pra bharāmahe matīḥ |RV_1,114.01|

Rudras as a group

6.1. Rudra is not merely the proper name of a deity; but it also is one that refers to a collection of Rudras ( Rudra-gana) . And, the Rudra-s as a group also signified a powerful host (Gana) of destructive deities often associated with storms (Marut). The Rudra-s represented not only the awesome, destructive fury of the tempest but also the benevolence of fertility, healing and welfare.

6.2. The  collective form , the Rudra-s , had two aspects; the fierce , terrible aspects(ugra) ; and the gentle , benevolent aspects (sowmya) – (dve tanu tasya devasya).

Thus, Rudra is a fierce deity of stormy winds, deafening thunderbolts, devastating floods and raging epidemics. Rudra is also benevolent; he is wealthy; he reassures the frightened ones and cures deceases.

D. The glory and splendor of the Rudra

7.1. The Rig Veda sings the glory and splendor of the Rudra. The Rig-Veda Samhita has four hymns (RV.1.43; 1.114; 2.33; and 7.46) comprising 39 verses dedicated to the Rudra.

In the hymns of the Rig-Veda, Rudra  appears in innumerable forms and colors (puru-rupa). Rudra is depicted as the ever youthful, most powerful, malevolent and terrifying deity , Lord of thunderstorms and lightning, presiding over the entire existence. Rudra who is endowed with strong arms, lustrous body decorated with ornaments and having flowing golden hair is said to be brown or tawny (Bablusha) or blue (Neela) in complexion; shining like sun and glittering like gold is endowed with sturdy limbs (vajra-bahu), charming lips . And, he is adorned with beautiful ornaments such as necklaces (nishika) of dazzling brilliance; and is crowned with mop of braided locks of hair (Kaparin). 

Rudra Blue

Rudra is described as fierce; armed with the mighty bow (pinaka), and a quiver holding unending array of arrows and missiles which are terrifyingly swift and penetrating. His fast-flying arrows, ‘brilliant shafts run about the heaven and the earth’ (RV 7.46.3).

Pinaka the powerful, sturdy bow with a wide span, bending along the course of the Sun , is said to be  the symbol of Rudra, the Isana (Lord); and,  his supremacy over all others. In the later texts, Pinaka is also known as Ajagava, the southern part of the Sun’s path. (Ajagava is also explained as a bow made of the horns of goats.)

Oh, the devoted to the devotees, always travelling in the chariot, ever young, fierce like the lion, vanquisher of the enemies, May the devotees pray to you. May you make us happy. May your armies fight against the enemies and be merciful towards us. There is none that matches him in strength. He is the Ishana the Master of the world; he is the father of worlds (Bhuvanasya pitaram).He commands men and entrusts tasks. He sets things in motion and makes flow like a river. He is medhavi, intelligent and the compassionate one. He is praised as midvah, for his generosity. As he is an auspicious one, he is called Shiva. (RV: 2-33-7; 6-49-10; 7-46-2)

Stomam vo adya rudraya shikvase I Kshaatadiraya namasa didistana…| Yebhih Shivah svavam yevayabhihi I  Divaha sishakti svayasha nikamabhihi.||  (RV: 10-92-9)

7.2. The Rig Veda sings the glory and splendor of the Rudra:

Chief of all born art thou in glory, Rudra, armed with the thunder, mightiest of the mighty (2.33.03)

– śreṣṭho jātasya rudra śriyāsi tavastamas tavasāṃ vajrabāho |

To him the strong, great, tawny (Bhabru Varna), fair-complexioned, I utter forth a mighty hymn of praises. We serve the brilliant God with adorations, we glorify, the splendid name of Rudra.(2.33.08)

– pra babhrave vṛṣabhāya śvitīce maho mahīṃ suṣṭutim īrayāmi

With firm limbs, multiform, the strong, the tawny adorns himself with bright gold decorations: The strength of Godhead never departs from Rudra, him who is Sovereign of this world, the mighty.(2.33.09)

– īśānād asya bhuvanasya bhūrer na vā u yoṣad rudrād asuryam 

Worthy, thou carry thy bow and arrows, worthy, thy many hued and honoured necklaces.

Worthy, thou cut here each fiend to pieces: a mightier than thou there is not, Rudra.(2.33. 10)

– rhann idaṃ dayase viśvam abhvaṃ na vā ojīyo rudra tvad asti

Praise him the chariot-borne, the young, the famous, fierce, slaying like a dread beast of the forest (2.33.11)

–  stuhi śrutaṃ gartasadaṃ yuvānam mṛgaṃ na bhīmam upahatnum ugram

E. Father of the Maruts

8.1. Rudra is the father of Maruts the “storm gods”; hence they are called Rudriya. They are the deities who bring havoc, associated with the atmosphere The Maruts (immortals) are described as restless troops of flashy young men, transporting in space the hordes young warriors called martyus (mortals)


Maruts are war-minded close knit bunch of exuberant youth. “They have iron teeth, roam like lions, hold bows and arrows and round projectiles; they speed away in golden chariots drawn by tawny stallions. They dwell in the North.”(RV 1.153.6).

Riding on the whirlwinds, singing loudly, they direct the storms. Clad in rain, they spread rain, pushing away storm. When they move the mountains tremble and trees fall (RV 1.39.5; 5.53-54)

They are known for moral and heroic deeds. Often brutal, though usually good humoured, they are feared by everyone.

8.2. The number of Maruts varies. They are a group of gods, supposed to number usually either eleven or thirty-three. The Rig Veda speaks of them as twenty-one (RV 1.133.6) as twenty-seven or forty-nine (seven groups of seven each) or one hundred and eighty (triḥ ṣaṣṭis – three times sixty in RV 8.96.8.).



9.01. In Rig Veda, as it is often said, the term Shiva occurs eighteen times. And, each time it is used as an adjective, an epithet standing for “an auspicious one” (mangalakara) in the sense of being “propitious” or “kind” (śivaḥ svavāṃ10.92.9).

Shiva, in Rig Veda, is not the name of any god. It is a quality found in many gods.

9.02. It is said, that Rudra’s identification with Shiva came much later; and for the first time in  Svetasvatara Upanishad and later in  Yajur Veda (Taittiriya samhita, 4-5-1 – satarudriya section). Vajasaneyi samhita (3-63) also identified Shiva with Rudra (tam Shiva namasi).

Satapatha Brahmana too said Shiva was known as Bhava, Mahadeva, Sarva, Pashupathi, Ugra and Ishana.

Panini (say 4th century BCE) in his Grammar- Ashtadhyayi (1-49; 3-53; 4-100; 5-3-99) mentions that Rudra was called variously: Mrida, Bhava, Sarva, Grisha, Mahadeva and Trayambaka.

Patanjali (in Mahabashya) also mentions icons of Shiva along with those of Skanda and Visakha. By Patanjali’s time (say 2nd or 3rd century BCE), I reckon,   Shiva as god with his attributes was well established.

9.03. Thus ,  an interesting reversal had taken place. Rudra, who  till then  signified a deity, became an epithet or an aspect of Shiva ; while Siva which term till then meant a benevolent or gracious virtue became the name of a great deity.

By the time of the Puranas, the aspect of  Rudra had  merged  with Shiva , one of the Grand Trinity ; and , Rudra  represented  Shiva’s terrific  aspect as the destroyer. Not surprisingly, Rudra came to be  closely associated with the god of death, Yama; with the god of fire, Agni; and with the magical drink, soma. At the same time, he was  also an aspect of Shiva the Lord of the universe, the cosmic dancer, the Supreme yogi and master of all yogis.

G. Legends of Rudra

10.01. The myths and legends that allege the origin of the Rudra abound. There are a variety of stories. I do not propose to discuss them here. Suffice it to say, all those legends have in common the Shiva, anger, howling or crying out loud.

10.02. Rudra who stands for all the intense feelings associated with the entire spectrum of surging emotions, ranging from piteous wail of the one weeping in excruciating pain to the terrifying thunder-clap emanating from clashing universes. It appears; Rudra had his origins in the pre-Vedic distant past lost in the antiquity. It is said;  he forcibly entered into the Vedic fold . Since then he has been celebrated and as one the fundamental and Supreme deities of the Vedic lore. In the Agamas of the post Vedic period, we witness the metamorphosis of the Rudra into benevolent Shiva the auspicious; Mahadeva, the Great Lord; and Parameshwara, the Supreme Lord of all Universes.

H. Rudra Prashna

11.1. Apart from the 39 verses dedicated to Rudra in the Rig-Veda Samhita, the  highly celebrated Rudra-adhyaya (the chapter on the Rudra) or the Shata-rudriya  (the hundred names of Rudra) , or the famous Namaka  hymn of Rudra Prashna  also appears in the  Vajasaneyi Samhita of  Shukla  Yajurveda  and as also  in the Taittiriya Samhita of Krishna Yajurveda.

The version of Rudra-adhyaya as in the Vajasaneyi Samhita of Shukla Yajurveda (chapter 16) comprises 66 mantras (here known as kandikas). Many of these kandikas are drawn from Rig-Veda Samhita. The other version of Rudra-adhyaya appearing in the Taittiriya Samhita of Krishna Yajurveda (Kanda 4; Praparthaka 5) is more comprehensive having as many as 170 mantras, including the 66 kandikas of the Vajasaneyi Samhita.

11.2.The 170 Taittiriya Rudra mantras are grouped into eleven Anuvakas (sub –sections meant for recitation) in which all the splendorous aspects of and attributes of Rudra as the Vedic divinity have been elaborated magnificently. This highly charged, inspired piece of grand poetry is rendered with great gusto and devotion by the worshippers on all occasions. The style, diction, rhythm, word structure and the intensity of the Rudra-prasna are truly matchless. It truly is a grandest ode to the all-powerful Lord of the Universe, the Rudra.

Here, Rudra has been elevated to the height of a sublime Vedic divinity. He is equated with ancient Vedic gods such as Aditya (sun) and Indra (Sahasraksha); and is celebrated as the presiding deity of the forest of evergreen trees (kaksanam pati), as the architect of the universe (stapathi), as also as the commander-in – chief (Senani) of a large army of followers (ganas) possessing countless number of horses (Asvapathi) , the presiding lord (Sabapathi), the minister (mantri), the trader (vanija) and the sharp-shooter (krtsna-vit) and so on.

11.3. Rudra is also described through various other terms related to forest-dwellers, hunters and artisans. Rudra is the a steel–blue (Nilagriva) coloured mountain-dweller (Girisha);  protector of hills (Girisanta); a blacksmith (Karmara)  who crafts  (taksa) bows and arrows(Dhanvakrt and Isukrt); a hunter (Mrgayu)  with a fearful pack of hounds (Saravani); a bird-catcher (Punjista) ; and , a potter (Kulala) etc

11.4. Rudra is also addressed through several epithets that are not laudatory; and some of them are even derogatory. He is called lord of robbers (stayunam pathi), the chief of gang of thieves (taskaranam pathi), a cat-burglar (stenanam pathi), a marauding butcher (prakrnta) waiting in the dark shadows holding a deadly chopper, and such many other names.

11.5. Rudra ultimately is the Supreme entity encompassing all forms and colours (Visva-rupa) of the limitless space and harmonizing within him all the contradictions in whole of existence.

[ It is said; when the name Rudra is invoked in the Svetavatara Upanishad, it is  NOT with the same sense as in the hymns of the Rig-Veda; rather, Rudra, here, represents the Supreme Being – both as the personal god (Deva) and as the Lord of all existence (Isha); and, above all, Rudra stands for the impersonal Absolute Brahman. The Rudra in the Svetavatara Upanishad is thus not limited or restricted to the sense a deity. And, Rudra as the Supreme Being manifests in countless forms and is called by multitude of names. In the Advaita outlook of the Svetavatara Upanishad everything emerges from Rudra (Brahman) , exists in it and merges back within it.]

11.6. The Sanat-kumara-samhita (7.7) aptly remarks that the ways of the Rudra who is endowed with inconceivable powers (achintya-bala) and valour are beyond comprehension (achintyan). The elusive power (Ajnanam) of his Maya cannot fathom either. Rudra is a beloved of his devotees (bhakthi-vatsalam) and is quickly pleased with devotion (Asuthosha)

Achintya–niyamo Rudro achintya-bala–purushah achintyan cha tad ajnanam na sakyam bhakthi-vatsalam

11.7. In the Shata-rudriya, or the hundred names of Rudra, or the famous Namaka hymn of Rudra Prashna found in the Vajasaneyi samhita of Yajurveda:

” Rudra is described as possessing many contradictory attributes; for example, he is a killer and destroyer; he is terrible, fierce ( ugra), inauspicious ; he is a deliverer and saviour; he causes happiness, and prevents disease ; he has a healing and auspicious body (siva tanuh); he is yellow-haired, brown- coloured, copper-coloured, ruddy, tall, dwarfish; he has braided locks (kapardin), wears the sacred thread, and is clothed in a skin ; he is blue-necked and thousand-eyed; he dwells in the mountains, and is the owner of troops (gana-pati) of servants who traverse the earth obeying his orders ; he is ruler and controller of a thousand Rudras who are described as fierce and ill-formed (virupa); he has a hundred bows and a thousand quivers; he is the general of vast armies; he is lord of ghosts, goblins, and spirits; of beasts, horses, and dogs; of trees, shrubs, and plants; he causes the fall of leaves ; he is lord of the Soma-juice; he is patron of thieves and robbers, and is himself present in a thief, robber, and deceiver; he presides over carpenters, chariot-makers, blacksmiths, architects, huntsmen; he is present in towns and houses, in rivers and lakes, in woods and roads, in clouds and rain, in sunshine and lightning, in wind and storm, in stones, dust, and earth.”

– – Monier-Williams (of the Boden Chair of Sanskrit at Oxford University)

11.8. Rudra is thus all pervading and present in every aspect of creation- moving and non-moving; conscient or sub-conscient. Rudra bestows upon us the magnificence of his nature.

[The Rudra-Prashna is usually recited along with another passage called ‘Chamakam’  (taken from the Yajurveda -TS 4.5, 4.7) which is composed with words ending with “Cha’ requesting Rudra to grant many, many things in life and beyond. The Chamakam (Just as the Rudra-Prashna) has also eleven sections (Anuvak); and, its each Anuvak corresponds to a force of each of  eleven  Rudras.

In the Anukak-s 1 to 10 of the Chamakam, the devotee prays for almost everything needed for human happiness. And in the 11th Anuvak of Chamakam  the devotee prays for the desired things not specifically but in the sequence of numbers, first in terms of odd numbers from 1 to 33 and later in multiples of 4 from 4 to 48, as follows:

      “Eka cha me, thisrascha may, pancha cha may, sapta cha may, Ekadasa cha may, trayodasa cha may, panchadasa cha may, saptadasa cha may, Navadasa cha may, ek trimshatis cha may, trayovimshatis cha may, Panchavimshatis cha may, saptavimshatis cha may, navavimshatis cha may, Ekatrimshatis cha may, trayatrimshatis cha may, panchatrimshatis cha may, Chatasras cha may, ashtou cha may, dwadasa cha may, shodasa cha may, Vimsatis cha may, chaturvimshatis cha may, ashtavimshatis cha may, Dwathrimashatis cha may, shatstrimshas cha may, chatvarimshas cha may, Chatuschatvarimshas cha may, ashtachatvarimshas cha may”

This means:

“Let these be granted to me. One, three, five, seven, nine, eleven, thirteen, seventeen, nineteen, twenty one, twenty three, twenty five, twenty seven, twenty nine, thirty one and thirty three as also four, eight, twelve, sixteen, twenty, twenty four, twenty eight, thirty two, thirty six, forty, forty four and forty eight – to ensure food and its production, its continuity, and the urge to enjoy, the origin of all productions, the sun, the heaven, the head of all, the infinite, the all-pervading like the sky, time and the like present at the end of total consummation exists at the end of it on the earth as universal form, the Antaryami the immortal, the inner ruler of everything, the Omni present and Omni potent”.

The sequence of odd and even numbers carry many interpretations.

Some have tried to present these numbers in graphic form. The entire square is divided in to 16 small squares and 64 triangles. If the entire square is folded in the Middle, both sides are symmetric; that is the place where the number 33 crossed the Middle of the square.  Each small square is symmetric with crossed lines forming triangles.                                       

Even Numbers are 4,8,12,16,20,24,28,32,36,40,44,and 48. Each number explains the number of cumulative triangles in each square.


[For more please check ]


The recitation of eleven sections of Rudra-Prashna followed by eleven section of Chamakam is called Nyasam. This is the normal or the general mode of recitation of these passages.

There are other peculiar and complicated patterns of the recitation of Rudra-Prashna and the Chamakam.

:- Rudra-Ekadashi – the Rudra-Prashna is recited 11 times. At the end of each recitation one Anuvak of Chamakam is recited. (That is Rudram 11 times and Chamakam once)

:-  Laghurudram – The Rudra -Ekadashi is repeated 11 times (that is the Rudra-prashna is recited 11×11 = 121 times  ); and , Chamakam is recited 11 times

: – Maharudram – The Laghurudram is recited 11 times – that is, 11X11X11  =  1331 times ; and Chamakam is recited 11×11 = 121 times

: Then there is the Atirudram – 11 Maharudram-s are recited (that is, Rudram is recited 11X11X11X11 =  14641 times); and, Chamakam is recited 11X11X11 =  1331 times.]

I. The Rudras Eleven

12.1. The Rudras are said to be truly infinite (shatam anantam bhavati, asankhyakam). They are present everywhere, manifest in millions of forms in as many abodes; and influence every aspect of creation (sahasrani sahasrasho ye rudra adhi bhumyam…); and they are there even in the food we eat and drink we consume (ye anneshu vividhyanti prateshu pibato janan...).

They are immanent within us. They are the protectors of the beings and the created world; the decay and destruction sets in when they refuse to support. Pray therefore to the Rudras for protection and benevolence; and to alleviate our troubles. (Shata rudriyam- Rudra prashna).

12.2. Sri Krishna in Bhagavad-Gita declares, among the eleven Rudras I am Lord Shiva.

The Rudras are however talked in terms of sets of eleven – Ekadasa Rudra, inasmuch as the term Rudra has virtually come to represent ‘the number eleven’. However, each tradition, each text has its own set of eleven Rudras, according to its priorities. Their names and attributes differ from one text to another. There is thus, virtually, a plethora of Rudras. But, each of them represents a certain aspect of Shiva or Rudra.

Rudras eleven

12.3. The following are some instances of the names of the eleven Rudras according to different authorities:

Shatarudriya hymns celebrates Rudra in his eleven forms as : Aghora (benevolent); Kapardi (with matted hair); Girisha (Lord of mountains) ; Bhima( terrible) ; Nilagriva (blue throated); Trayambaka (three eyed); Sabhapathi (master of the assembly); Ganapathi (leader of the hosts);  Senani (commander of forces);  Samkara (doer of good ); and Shambhu (appearing for the welfare of all).

Rudra Prasna (3.5): Bhava; Sharva; Pashupathi; Nilagriva; Shithikanta; Kapardina; Vyupta-kesha; Shasraksha; Shatadhanva; Girisha ; and Shipivista.

Rupa-mandana (a text of Shilpa sastra) : Isana; Tatpurusha; Aghora; Vamadeva; Sadyojatha; Mruthyunjaya; Kiranaksha; Srikanta; Abhirbhudhya; Bahurupa; and , Tryamkaka.

Visvakarma Shilpa (a text of Shilpa sastra): Aja; Ekapat; Abhirbudhya; Virupaksha; Revata; Hara; Bahurupa; Tryambaka; Suresvara; Jayanta; and, Aparajita.

Amsumad bheda agama ( a text of Shilpa sastra): Mahadeva; Siva; Rudra ;Sankara; Nilalohita; Isana; Vijaya; Bhima; Deva -Deva; Bhava ; and,  Kapali.

Padma Purana: Rta-dhvaja; Manu; Manyu; Ugra-retas; Mahan; Siva; Bhava; Kala; Mahinasa; Vamadeva; and, Dhrta-vrata.

Mahabharata (Adi Parva): Mrigavyadha; Sarpa; Niriti; Ajaikapat ; Abhivardhana ; Pinaki ; Dahana ; Iswara ;Kapali ;Sthanu ;and, Bharga.

Valmiki Ramayana (4.43): Aja; Ekapada; Abhirbhudya; Hara; Shambu: Tryambaka; Aparajita; Isana; Tribhuvana; Twasta; and , Rudra.

Srimad Bhagavata (3.12.12):Manyu ; Manu; Mahinasa; Mahan; Siva; Rta-dhvaja; Ugra-reta; Bhava; Kala; Vamadeva; and, Dhrta-vrata.

Agni Purana (Ch 18) :Aparajita; Hara; Bahurupa; Tryambaka; Vrsakapi; Shambu; Kapardina; Raivata; Mriga vyadha; Sarpa; and, Kapali.


According to Jothish Sastras (Astrology ) : Kapali; Pingala; Bhima; Virupaksha; Vilohita; Shasta; Ajapada; Abhirbudhnya; Shambu; Chanda ; and, Bhava.

These rule the eleven-division chart called Rudramsha, which indicates the struggles and strife’s of the horoscope. There are prayers to appease the specific Rudras.

12.4. Corresponding to eleven Rudras, there are eleven consorts for them. They are said to emanate from the feminine half of the Shiva’s body. For instance, Dhi; Vritti; Usana; Uma; Niyuta; Sarpi; Ila; Ambika; Iravathi; Sudha; and Diksha are the eleven Rudranis mentioned in Vishnu purana (1.7).

J. Iconography of the Rudras

13. 1. The Iconographic details of the Rudras as provided in the various texts are not uniform. And each text follows its own set of eleven Rudras. The treatment of the subject across the text is rather irregular. For instance, some texts (like Rupa-mandana) provide details of the features of the Rudras, their ornaments and the weapons they carry. The Visvakarma Shilpa provides details of only the weapons. In most other texts the information provided is incomplete or is meagre.

13.2. But, as a rule, all Rudras are said to possess forms similar to Shiva. They weave their matted hair in the form of a crown, to which a crescent moon is stuck.

Vishnudharmottara, a text dated around 5-6th century, too states that the images of the Rudras should be made as in the form of Mahesvara (Part Three; Ch 72; verses 1-8).It gives elaborate description of how Mahadeva or Mahesvara should be depicted.

13.3. Rudra is described sometimes as tawny (bablusha) ruddy complexion. The term also means a bull (as in Bhabru-vahana). Rudra is therefore often depicted as riding a bull and carrying a trident or shooting arrows.

13.4. Vishnudharmottara states that Mahadeva should be have a moon like complexion and seated on a bull. Sadyojata (earth), Vamadeva (water), Aghora (fire) and Tatpurusha (wind) should be shown as his four faces; and Isana (sky) should be his fifth face. His four faces should all be looking placid and the fifth one facing south should be fierce wearing a garland of skulls. All four faces with the exception of the north face (Vamadeva two eyed) should be three-eyed. On the crest of the matted locks of the north face should be the crescent moon, and on top of it should be the fifth face .A serpent should serve as his sacred thread. He should be provided ten arms. His right hands carrying rosary, a trident, an arrow, a staff and a lotus. In his left hands a citron, a bow, a mirror, a water-pot and skin roll. 

13.5. The Shilpa text Karanagama prescribes that Rudra should be represented as white complexioned (kailasabha), five- faced, three-eyed, and four-armed carrying rosary and water pot and gesturing boons and protection. He is clad in tiger skin and is decorated with snake ornaments. He wears matted hair with crescent moon in it.


13.6. Another text Amsumad-bheda-agama states that all Rudras are to be represented as standing in a well balanced posture (samapada-sthanaka) on a lotus pedestal, bedecked with ornaments and flowers; four armed and three eyed; with matted hair done as a crown. They are to be shown as fair complexioned; draped in white garments. They carry in their upper hands battle axes (parashu) in one and black antelope (krshna mriga) in the other. The lower right hand gestures protection (abhaya) and the left bestowing the boon (varada).

13.7. Another Shilpa text – Sanathkumara Samhita (shiva-175-178) provides slightly different iconographic details of Rudra: as having a pearl, moon or jasmine like soothing–bright complexion; four arms; three eyes glowing like embers; and having a coiled mop of hair (jata-makuta) decorated with crescent moon. He is clad in tiger skin and garlands of Arka flowers and snakes. His front two hands bestow blessing (varada) and assurance or protection (abhaya).His upper two hands hold battle axe (parashu) and deer.

The text prescribes that Rudra could be depicted in seated (aasana) or standing (sthanaka) posture. When Rudra is seated he should be made to face East or West. A standing Rudra could however face any direction. The text also cautions that Rudra should never be depicted in lying down (shayana) posture.

13.8. Rupa-mandana, Karanagama and other Shipa texts provide totally different iconographic details of the Rudras. For instance:

Isana (sun): Five faced; ten armed. Crystal white complexion; matted hair done like a crown with a crescent moon in it; ten arms carrying rosary, trident, skull-cup, goad and gesturing assurance (on the right);gesture of protection;. Skull-cup, book, rope and damaru drum.-(karanagama).

Tatpurusha: Yellow garments; two arms; three eyed; the right holding rosary and the left carrying a fruit (maatulinga)-(Rupamandana)

Aghora: Complexion resembling blue-lotus; reddish eyebrows; three eyes of yellow tinge; fierce face with sharp tusks; all ornaments including sacred-thread made of snakes; garland of scorpions; band of skulls (kapala mala) round the matted hair yellow in colour done like a crown; eight arms –the hands on the right holding trident, battle axe, sword and cudgel; while the left hands hold khatvanga, skull cup, shield and noose.— (Rupamandana)


Vamadeva : the body, eyes, garments, ornaments and sacred thread – all done in red; three eyes; broad face; long nose; two arms carrying sword and shield.— (Rupamandana)

Sadyojatha:   the body, garments, garlands etc are all done in white like jasmine flower, moon or conch. He is joyous and of handsome appearance. He is three eyed and two armed; the hands gesturing protection and boons; and carrying a book and a rosary. His crest is adorned by crescent moon.


Bahurupi Sadashiva: Five faced each with three eyes; endowed with eighteen arms holding various weapons-axe, bow, arrow, khatvanga etc; skull-cup, book, rosary, water-pot, lotus, and gesturing assurance and benediction. His five faces glow with crystal like luster; Vamadeva face has yellow tinge; Aghora face in blue with sharp fierce tusks; Tatpurusha face is red like lotus with divine grace; Isana face is dark and handsome; and Sadyojatha is clear and bright like a crystal.- (Rupamandana and Kalika purana).

Mrutyunjaya : fair complexion; tiger-skin garment; garland of skulls; six arms; two hands held on the lap in yoga posture; other hands carrying trident and rosary (right) and skull-cup and water-pot (kamandalau) in the left.

Kiranaksha: fair complexion; dressed in white; four arms –two gesturing protection and boon and the other holding rosary and a book.

Srikanta: garments of variegated colour; well decorated with ornaments; handsome face; four arms carrying bow, arrows; sword and shield.

Virupaksha: has expanded eyes, a bright face, hairs erect, two hands and a yellow beard. His limbs are reddish-dark in colour; he wears dark garments; holds a majestic staff (death) and is richly ornamented .He rides a camel representing delusion.

Bhima: is shown having a garland of skulls and carrying a khatvanga (skull –staff). He is jackal faced with terrible fangs and looking angry. He has deep red complexion.

Aja , Ekapada, Revata, Hara, Trayambaka, Suresvara, Jayanta and Aparajita are described with sixteen arms. They hold, in various combinations, the instruments such as: shula, ankusha, kapala, damaru, sarpa, mrudanga, akshamala, chakra, bana, dhanus, ketaka, gadha, khatvanga, pattisa, ghanta, shakthi, parashu, kamandalu, tomarara and pattika etc.

[The descriptions given in other texts vary from the above considerably.]

13.9. The other texts like Kalika purana, Padma purana, Vishvakarma samhita, Aparajita puccha, Shilpa rathna, Shiva agama etc too carry their own descriptions of the Rudras. They vary from each other in regard to details such as the number of faces, arms, postures, colour and countenance of the faces. It is virtually not possible to list out and illustrate each of those interpretations. But, all depictions are based in Shiva and his attributes; and are made in the form of Shiva.

13.10. In the popular depictions of the Rudras  all Rudras are made to look like the central figure of Shiva. But, one cannot make out which are those Rudras, their names or special attributes, because all are made to look alike. That surely is easier but lacks authenticity.

K.  At the end:

14.1 There is no standard set of Rudras. Each school, text or authority identifies its own set of eleven Rudras according to their priorities. The details of iconography of Rudras vary greatly across the texts and traditions. There is a considerable flexibility in the choice of the attributes, the physical forms, the postures and the ornaments/weapons.

14.2. It appears, you too may have to select your team of the Rudras Eleven from across the spectrum of Rudras in each category, according to your preferences. Or you may select a particular text and follow its tradition of depiction.

For that purpose , you might take the aid of books like Siva Kosa (two volumes) and Indian Iconography (three volumes) authored by Prof SK Ramachandra Rao ; or similar other books , to explore the subject. In case it is possible, you may even consult Shilpa texts such as; Rupasampada, Karanagama, Shilpa ratna, Vishvakarma Samhita or Aparajita puccha etc. These texts do provide interesting iconographic details and, at times, illustrations too. I reckon many of the major libraries in the continent have books on ancient Indian sculpture.

14.3. Else, you may treat this blog as a hint or a place to commence your pursuit; and to improvise your creations based on the few details given here and in the resources I referred to.

14.4. I am not sure I have been of much help to you. If you have read up to here, I admire your patience.

Thank you for asking. Writing this article has been a sort of education to me. Kindly let me know if I can be of any assistance. God Bless you.

Warm Regards.

[ Notes @ :

It is said that there are as many as seventy-five references to Rudra in the Rig-Veda Samhita. Most of those occur in the First and the Second and Books; and some in the Seventh Book. The following are some instances

RV 1.43 Rishi: kaṇva ghaura; Devatā: Rudra, 3 Rudra, Mitrāvaruṇā ,  7-9, Soma; Chandas: Gāyatrī, 9 Anuṣṭup

: – What could we sing to Rudra, strong, most bounteous, excellently wise, that shall be dearest to his heart? –  kád rudrā ya prácetase mīḷhúṣṭamāya távyase vocéma śáṃtamaṃ hṛdé– ( RV 1.043.01)

:- May that  Aditi may grant the grace of Rudra to our folk, our kin, our cattle and our progeny – yáthā no áditiḥ kárat páśve , nŕ̥bhyo yáthā gáve yáthā tokā ya rudríyam –  (RV 1.043.02 )

:- May that Mitra ,  that Varuna,and  that Rudra  remember us-  yáthā no mitró váruṇo yáthā rudráś cíketati yáthā víśve sajóṣasaḥ– (RV 1.043.03)

:- To Rudra Lord of sacrifice, of hymns and balmy medicines, we pray for joy ,  health and strength-  gāthápatim medhápatiṃ rudráṃ jálāṣabheṣajam tác chaṃyóḥ sumnám īmahe – (RV 1.043.04)

:- He (Rudra)  shines in splendour like the Sun, refulgent as bright gold . he is   the best among the gods – yáḥ śukrá iva sū riyo híraṇyam iva rócate śréṣṭho devānãṃ vásuḥ – ( RV1.043.05)

:- May He  (Rudra) grant health to our steeds;  well-being to our rams and ewes; as also  to our  men, women, and to young ones – śáṃ naḥ karati árvate sugám meṣā ya meṣíye nŕ̥bhyo nā ribhiyo gáve – (RV 1.043.06)

[kad rudrāya pracetase mīḷhuṣṭamāya tavyase | vocema śantamaṃ hṛde ||
 yathā no aditiḥ karat paśve nṛbhyo yathā gave | yathā tokāya rudriyam ||
 yathā no mitro varuṇo yathā rudraś ciketati | yathā viśve sajoṣasaḥ ||
gāthapatim medhapatiṃ rudraṃ jalāṣabheṣajam | tac chaṃyoḥ sumnam īmahe ||
 yaḥ śukra iva sūryo hiraṇyam iva rocate | śreṣṭho devānāṃ vasuḥ ||
śaṃ naḥ karaty arvate sugam meṣāya meṣye |nṛbhyo nāribhyo gave ||
 asme soma śriyam adhi ni dhehi śatasya nṛṇām | mahi śravas tuvinṛmṇam ||
 mā naḥ somaparibādho mārātayo juhuranta |  ā na indo vāje bhaja ||
 yās te prajā amṛtasya parasmin dhāmann ṛtasya | mūrdhā nābhā soma vena ābhūṣantīḥ soma vedaḥ ||]

RV 1.114 Rishi: kutsa āṅgirasa; Devatā: Rudra; Chandas: Jagatī, 10-11 Triṣṭup

: – To him, the mighty Rudra, the Lord of heroes , adorned with with the braided hair , we submit our songs of praise- imā́ rudrā́ ya taváse kapardíne kṣayádvīrāya prá bharāmahe matī́ ḥ yáthā śám ásad dvipáde cátuṣpade víśvam puṣṭáṃ grā́me asmínn anāturám – ( RV 1.114.01)

: – Be gracious unto us, O Rudra, bring us joy: May we enjoy that O Rudra, under you leadership – mṛḻā́ no rudra utá no máyas kr̥dhi;  kṣayádvīrāya námasā vidhema te yác cháṃ ca yóś ca mánur āyejé pitā́ ; tád aśyāma táva rudra práṇītiṣu –(RV 1.114.02)

: – O Bounteous One, O Rudra, Ruler of valiant men.,  come to our families, bless them bliss: aśyā́ma te sumatíṃ devayajyáyā kṣayádvīrasya táva rudra mīVhuvaḥ  (RV 1.114.03 )

:- Rudra, of Flaming Power, May he throw far away from us, the wrath of gods.   what we seek of him is sublime thoughts-  vayáṃ rudaráṃ yajñasā́ dhaṃ vaṅkúṃ kavím ávase ní hvayāmahe – (RV 1.114.04)

:- Father of Maruts, the sweetest of all; O Immortal, Amṛta, grant us the mortal enjoyment ; be soft to us; to our offspring and our future generations,  – idám pitré marútām ucyate vácaḥ svādóḥ svā́ dīyo rudarā́ ya várdhanam –  (RV 1.114.06)

: –  O Rudra, harm not , either great or small of us, harm not the growing boy, harm not the full−grown man. Slay not a sire among us, slay no mother here, and to our own dear bodies, Rudra, do not harm – mā́ no mahā́ ntam utá mā́ no arbhakám mā́ na úkṣantam utá mā́ na ukṣitám – ( 1.114.07)

: – Harm us not, Rudra, harm not our progeny; harm us not in the living, nor in cows or steeds, Slay not our heroes in the fury of thy wrath. Bringing oblations evermore we call to thee – mā́ nas toké tánaye mā́ na āyaú mā́ no góṣu mā́ no áśveṣu rīriṣaḥ– (RV 1.114.08)

: – We, seeking help, have spoken and adored him.  May Rudra, hear our prayers – ávocāma námo asmā avasyávaḥ śr̥ṇótu no hávaṃ rudró marútvān – (RV 1.114.11)

[ imā rudrāya tavase kapardine kṣayadvīrāya pra bharāmahe matīḥ |
yathā śam asad dvipade catuṣpade viśvam puṣṭaṃ grāme asminn anāturam ||
 mṛḷā no rudrota no mayas kṛdhi kṣayadvīrāya namasā vidhema te |
 yac chaṃ ca yoś ca manur āyeje pitā tad aśyāma tava rudra praṇītiṣu ||
 aśyāma te sumatiṃ devayajyayā kṣayadvīrasya tava rudra mīḍhvaḥ |
 sumnāyann id viśo asmākam ā carāriṣṭavīrā juhavāma te haviḥ ||
 tveṣaṃ vayaṃ rudraṃ yajñasādhaṃ vaṅkuṃ kavim avase ni hvayāmahe |
āre asmad daivyaṃ heḷo asyatu sumatim id vayam asyā vṛṇīmahe ||
 divo varāham aruṣaṃ kapardinaṃ tveṣaṃ rūpaṃ namasā ni hvayāmahe |
 haste bibhrad bheṣajā vāryāṇi śarma varma cchardir asmabhyaṃ yaṃsat ||
 idam pitre marutām ucyate vacaḥ svādoḥ svādīyo rudrāya vardhanam |
 rāsvā ca no amṛta martabhojanaṃ tmane tokāya tanayāya mṛḷa 
mā no mahāntam uta mā no arbhakam mā na ukṣantam uta mā na ukṣitam |
mā no vadhīḥ pitaram mota mātaram mā naḥ priyās tanvo rudra rīriṣaḥ ||
 mā nas toke tanaye mā na āyau mā no goṣu mā no aśveṣu rīriṣaḥ 
 vīrān mā no rudra bhāmito vadhīr haviṣmantaḥ sadam it tvā havāmahe ||
 upa te stomān paśupā ivākaraṃ rāsvā pitar marutāṃ sumnam asme |
bhadrā hi te sumatir mṛḷayattamāthā vayam ava it te vṛṇīmahe 
āre te goghnam uta pūruṣaghnaṃ kṣayadvīra sumnam asme te astu |
mṛḷā ca no adhi ca brūhi devādhā ca naḥ śarma yaccha dvibarhāḥ ||
 avocāma namo asmā avasyavaḥ śṛṇotu no havaṃ rudro marutvān |
tan no mitro varuṇo māmahantām aditiḥ sindhuḥ pṛthivī uta dyauḥ ||]

RV 2. 33. Rishi: Gṛishmada (Aṅgirasa Saunahotra paścād) , Bhārgava śaunaka; Devatā: Rudra; Chandas: Triṣṭup; Anuvāka IV

: – Father of Maruts , let thy bliss approach us – ā ́ te pitar marutāṃ sumnám etu , prá jāyemahi rudara prajā́ bhiḥ – (RV 2.033.01)

: – O Rudra, with your most benignant means of healing, may I enjoy hundred winters – tvādattebhiḥ śaṃtamebhiḥ bheṣajebhiḥ,], śatam himā āśīya –  (RV 2.033.02)

: – You are, O Rudra, the best in glory, the best of all who are born here in the body, you are the strongest – śréṣṭho jātásya rudara śriyā́ si tavástamas tavásāṃ vajrabāho párṣi ṇaḥ pārám áṃhasaḥ suastí víśvā abhī́ tī rápaso yuyodhi – (2.033.03)

:- Let us not anger thee, O Rudra, with our improper praise; the strongest among gods let’s not displease you with mingled invocations. You are indeed the best of the physicians . Heal our heroes – mā́ tvā rudra cukrudhāmā námobhirhih,  mā́ dúṣṭutī , vṛṣabha,  mā́ sáhūtī ún no vīrā́m̐ arpaya bheṣajébhir bhiṣáktamaṃ tvā bhiṣájāṃ śṛṇomi – (RV 2.033.04)

:-   May I with my invocations  win that Rudra’s favour who is adorned with gifts and invocations. hávīmabhir hávate yó havírbhir áva stómebhī rudaráṃ diṣīya – 2.033.05

:- As he who finds a shade in hot sun  may I, uninjured,  win the protection and  bliss of Rudra- ā vivāseyam rudrasya sumnam, ; ghṛṇīva chāyām arapā aśīya (RV 2.033.06)

:- Where is that compassionate  hand of yours, O Rudra, which heals, delights; showers benifits and dispels sins ; have mercy upon me – yo asti bheṣajo jalāṣaḥ? kúva syá te rudara mr̥̄ḷayā́ kur hásto yó ásti bheṣajó jálāṣaḥ – (RV 2.033.07)

: – To him the strong, great, the cherisher (of all), tawny, fair−complexioned, I utter forth a mighty hymn of praises. The Flaming One we sing your glorious name and pray earnestly- prá babhráve vr̥ṣabhā́ ya śvitīcé mahó mahī́ṃ suṣṭutím īrayāmi namasyā́ kalmalīkínaṃ námobhir gṛṇīmási tveṣáṃ rudrásya nā́ma (RV 2.033.08)

:- the , the Supreme Ruler , the strong-limbed  lord of this world , the One with infinite forms, of  fierce  golden red  complexion who has decorated himself with bright gold ornaments – sthirébhir áṅgaiḥ pururū́ pa ugró babhrúḥ śukrébhiḥ pipiśe híraṇyaiḥ ī ́ śānād asyá bhúvanasya bhū́ rer ná vā́ u yoṣad rudarā́ d asuryàm- (RV 2.033.09)

: – Nothing is stronger than you, , O Rudra- ná vā́ ójīyo rudara tvád asti  (RV2.033.10)

:- O Rudra, praised, be gracious to the singer. Let thy hosts spare us and smite down another. mr̥̄ḷā́ jaritré rudara stávāno anyáṃ te asmán ní vapantu sénāḥ (RV 2.033.11)

:- To you Rudra  I have surrendered myself, just as a boy  approaches  his respected father . The Lord of all existence, I beseech you ! Please bestow upon us the cure to our ills– kumāráś cit pitáraṃ vándamānam práti nānāma rudaropayántam bhū́ rer dātā́ raṃ sátpatiṃ gr̥ṇīṣe stutás tuvám bheṣajā́ rāsi asmé  – (RV2.033.12)

 :- I crave from Rudra his  pure and luminous curing powers , for our gain and welfare – yā́ vo bheṣajā́ marutaḥ śúcīni yā́ śáṃtamā vŕ̥ṣaṇo yā́ mayobhú yā́ ni mánur ávr̥ṇītā pitā́ nas tā́ śáṃ ca yóś ca rudarásya vaśmi – (RV2.033.13)

: – May the flaming darts of Rudra be diverted away from us- pari ṇo hetī rudrasya vṛjyāḥ! pári ṇo hetī́ rudarásya vr̥jyāḥ – (RV 2.033.14)

: – Rudra, listen to our invocation. Loud may we speak, with heroes, in assembly-  havanaśrún no rudarehá bodhi br̥hád vadema vidáthe suvī́ rāḥ  (RV 2.033.15)

[ā te pitar marutāṃ sumnam etu mā naḥ sūryasya saṃdṛśo yuyothāḥ 
abhi no vīro arvati kṣameta pra jāyemahi rudra prajābhiḥ ||
tvādattebhī rudra śantamebhiḥ śataṃ himā aśīya bheṣajebhiḥ |
vy asmad dveṣo vitaraṃ vy aṃho vy amīvāś cātayasvā viṣūcīḥ ||
śreṣṭho jātasya rudra śriyāsi tavastamas tavasāṃ vajrabāho 
parṣi ṇaḥ pāram aṃhasaḥ svasti viśvā abhītī rapaso yuyodhi 
mā tvā rudra cukrudhāmā namobhir mā duṣṭutī vṛṣabha mā sahūtī |
un no vīrāṃ arpaya bheṣajebhir bhiṣaktamaṃ tvā bhiṣajāṃ śṛṇomi 
havīmabhir havate yo havirbhir ava stomebhī rudraṃ diṣīya 
ṛdūdaraḥ suhavo mā no asyai babhruḥ suśipro rīradhan manāyai ||
un mā mamanda vṛṣabho marutvān tvakṣīyasā vayasā nādhamānam |
ghṛṇīva cchāyām arapā aśīyā vivāseyaṃ rudrasya sumnam 
kva sya te rudra mṛḷayākur hasto yo asti bheṣajo jalāṣaḥ |
apabhartā rapaso daivyasyābhī nu mā vṛṣabha cakṣamīthāḥ 
pra babhrave vṛṣabhāya śvitīce maho mahīṃ suṣṭutim īrayāmi |
namasyā kalmalīkinaṃ namobhir gṛṇīmasi tveṣaṃ rudrasya nāma 
sthirebhir aṅgaiḥ pururūpa ugro babhruḥ śukrebhiḥ pipiśe hiraṇyaiḥ 
īśānād asya bhuvanasya bhūrer na vā u yoṣad rudrād asuryam ||
arhan bibharṣi sāyakāni dhanvārhan niṣkaṃ yajataṃ viśvarūpam |
arhann idaṃ dayase viśvam abhvaṃ na vā ojīyo rudra tvad asti ||
 stuhi śrutaṃ gartasadaṃ yuvānam mṛgaṃ na bhīmam upahatnum ugram mṛḷā jaritre rudra stavāno ‘nyaṃ te asman ni vapantu senāḥ 
kumāraś cit pitaraṃ vandamānam prati nānāma rudropayantam |
bhūrer dātāraṃ satpatiṃ gṛṇīṣe stutas tvam bheṣajā rāsy asme ||
yā vo bheṣajā marutaḥ śucīni yā śantamā vṛṣaṇo yā mayobhu |
 yāni manur avṛṇītā pitā nas tā śaṃ ca yoś ca rudrasya vaśmi 
pari ṇo hetī rudrasya vṛjyāḥ pari tveṣasya durmatir mahī gāt 
ava sthirā maghavadbhyas tanuṣva mīḍhvas tokāya tanayāya mṛḷa 
 evā babhro vṛṣabha cekitāna yathā deva na hṛṇīṣe na haṃsi 
 havanaśrun no rudreha bodhi bṛhad vadema vidathe suvīrāḥ]

RV.7.46 Riṣi: vasiṣṭha maitrāvaruṇi; Devatā: viṣṇu; Chandas: triṣṭup

:-We sing to the glory of Rudra the sovereign Lord wielding a firm and strong bow discharging swiftly-flying shafts – mā rudrāya  sthiradhanvane  ghiraḥ  kṣipreṣav e devāya svadhāvne (RV 7.46.1)

:-The Wise, the Conqueror whom none may overcome, armed with sharp-pointed weapons: may he hear our call – aṣāḷhāya sahamānāya vedhase tighmāyudhāya bharatā śṛṇotu naḥ ( RV.7.46.2)

:-O Rudra, Come willingly to our doors that gladly welcome thee, and heal all sickness, Rudra., in our family  – avannavantīrupa no duraścarānamīvo rudra jāsu no bhava – (RV .7.46.4)

:-Thou, very gracious God, hast thousand medicines: inflict no evil on our sons or progeny – sahasraṃ te svapivāta bheṣajā mā nastokeṣutanayeṣu rīriṣah  (RV 7.46.6)

:-Slay us not, nor abandon us, O Rudra, let not thy noose, when thou art angry, seize us mā no vadhī rudra mā parā dā mā te bhūma prasitau hīḷitasya – (RV.7.46.7)

:-Give us trimmed grass and fame among the living. Preserve us evermore, ye Gods, with blessing – ā no bhaja barhiṣi jīvaśaṃse yūyaṃ pāta  (RV.7.4.8)

imā rudrāya sthiradhanvane giraḥ kṣipreṣave devāya svadhāvne |
aṣāḷhāya sahamānāya vedhase tigmāyudhāya bharatā śṛṇotu naḥ 
sa hi kṣayeṇa kṣamyasya janmanaḥ sāmrājyena divyasya cetati 
avann avantīr upa no duraś carānamīvo rudra jāsu no bhava ||
Ryā te didyud avasṛṣṭā divas pari kṣmayā carati pari sā vṛṇaktu naḥ 
sahasraṃ te svapivāta bheṣajā mā nas tokeṣu tanayeṣu rīriṣaḥ 
mā no vadhī rudra mā parā dā mā te bhūma prasitau hīḷitasya |
ā no bhaja barhiṣi jīvaśaṃse yūyam pāta svastibhiḥ sadā naḥ ||]

[Source: Hymns to Rudra- Vedic Studies- Vladimir Iatsenko and Nishtha ]


References and sources

I gratefully acknowledge the painting by Acharya Shri S Rajam

And the line drawings by Dr. G Gnanananda from his wonderful book Rupa Lakshana sangraha

And other pictures from the internet

Shiva Kosa by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao


Posted by on September 29, 2012 in Iconography, Indian Philosophy, Rudra


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



As I am trying to study Hinduism Could I ask you another question? It is about ‘Dwarapal’.

I know only that they are security guard in Hindu temples, and every Divinity has his/her own Dwarapal. Vishnu, Shiva, Devi and others have those personal Dwarapals. I have seen them, made of stone, in temples in India. But I cannot find any additional information about Dwarapals in Google

Are there any texts about Dwarapals? What kind of beings they are, who they are by nature, what is their role in Hinduism or in worship of Deity? 

Best regards


Western Malwa -6th century

 1.1. Dear Atma Raga, Thank you. I am glad you asked the question. It is rather an unusual question, but an interesting one. Let me try.

1.2. Dvarapalas are regular features of a major Hindu or Buddhist temple complex. They are the formidable looking ‘gate-keepers’ and guards in service of the presiding deity of the temple. They are the servants and the protectors of their masters. They are typically envisioned as huge and robust warriors. The pairs of Dvarapalas are most usually placed at the entrance to the temple and also at the door way to sanctum (garbha-griha). As you mentioned, each god or goddess has his or her own set of Dvarapalas.

2.1. Dvarapalas are classified as parivara-devathas, meaning that Dvarapalas are semi-divine beings of a minor class who form the entourage of the main deity they serve. The Shilpa Sastra texts that deal with temple architecture (devalaya-vastu) after describing the temple layout, structure and other aspects  with particular reference to the attributes and disposition of the deity to be installed in the temple , do make a  mention of the nature and appearances of the Dvarapalas to be placed at different locations in the temple complex. There are in addition, numerous Dhyana-slokas, or word-pictures in verse that present graphic details of the form, substance and attribute of the deity and his or her attendants. These verses are meant for contemplation and guidance of the Shilpi, the sculptor. I do not know if there are any texts that deal exclusively with the depiction of the Dvarapalas. They form a detail of the larger picture.

2.2. Since Dvarapalas are parivara-devathas, their appearance, attributes etc have to be in accordance with that of their Master, the principal deity that resides in the sanctum. Therefore their costume, weapons, insignia or emblems are indicative of the powers, virtues and magnificence of the presiding deity. Their appearances and stance herald the nature and disposition of the main deity; and also the affiliation of the temple- such as Shiva, Vishnu, and Devi etc.

3.1. Accordingly, the Dvarapalas in a Vishnu temple are rather placid looking; modestly dressed and ornamented.  They are adorned with the signs and emblems of Vishnu such as the tilaka on their fore heads and urdhvapundra (Nama) on their faces, arms, chest etc.. They carry in their upper hands the conch (shankha) and   discus (chakra); and in the lower hands, the mace (gada) and a noose (pasha, coil of rope). They stand erect, cross-legged leaning on their mace as if they are resting. The gestures of their fingers and the look in their eyes caution one to behave properly in the presence of the divinity. The nature and appearance of the Dvarapalas of Vishnu are described in the Agama texts: Isvara Samhita and Pushkara Samhita.


Bhadra                                  Subhadra          

3.2. Similarly, the Dvarapalas in a Shiva temple take after Virabhadra, the ferocious aspect of Shiva. They look fierce with bulging eyes, protruding curved sharp canine teeth, horns (at times); and with their threatening stance and fearsome weapons. They have thick mustaches, bushy eyebrows and  hairy abdomen.  They wear the emblems of Shiva, such as the stripes of ash, animal hides, long flowing unkempt hair etc. They carry a trident, mace, broad-sword and a noose. They look ferocious, gesture ominously and stand planting firmly a foot on the mace. The features of the Dvarapalas of Shiva are described in the latter part (uttarardha) of Kashyapa Shilpa Sastra by Prof. Dr.G Gnanananda

Dvarapala MundiDvarapala Dandi

3.3. In the Shaktha tradition where the distinctions between the gross and subtle forms are marked and sharp, the Dvarapalas of the female deities who represent the grosser elements of nature are fearsome looking females, modeled after the ferocious aspect of their Mother deity. They carry cutlasses and tridents; wear garlands of skull; and sport wild unkempt hair. Quite often they are portrayed with flashy eyes, long protruding teeth and tongue spread out of the open mouth. The Dvarapalas of the Devi are pictured in Kalika Puranam.’


As regards the Female Dwarapalikas of the Devi in her benign form (Soumya-prakrti); they are modeled after the principal Mother-Goddess .

Dwarapaliki female Dwarapaliki female 2

In the Dakshina-chara School (the right handed method) of Sri Vidya tradition the guarding deities are the physical (sthula) representations of certain symbolic concepts. For instance, the outermost enclosure (avarana) of Sri Chakra, named Bhupura Chakra – the earth stretch, has four gates (dvara). The Eastern gate is the way of the mantras; the Southern gate is the way of devotion or bhakti; the Western gate is for the performance of rites and rituals, or karma-kanda.; and the Northern gate is the way of wisdom, or Jnana. The Mudra devathas, the standard bearers, the approach to the divinities and carrying seals of authority, guard those entrances. They resemble in appearance the auspicious form of the Mother Goddess and carry weapons such as bow, arrows, goad and noose.

mudra devata

4.1. As regards the general features of all Dvarapalas placed in the temples, they are well built, muscular, broad shouldered, very tall and sporting fearsome moustaches. Each is endowed with four arms.  They are elaborately adorned with Kirita (headgear), Bhuja –kirti (shoulder ornaments), karna-kundala (hanging earrings). They are always soldier-like and larger than life; but they can hardly be called very terrifying. The Dvarapala are not provided with halos or garlands. They always carry weapons; and are always depicted as standing guard. Dvarapalas are always in pair or in even numbers. The Agama texts recommend four pairs of Dvarapalas, each pair to guard a cardinal direction.

The Dvarapala images are usually scaled in  saptha  (seven)  tala  or nava (nine) tala measure.   They are made either with two or four arms.

dvarapala brihadisvara bw

4.2. The Dvarapalas, in each case, are in some way associated with their main deity through a legend detailed in a Purana. The Dvarapalas of major deities such as Vishnu or Shiva have recognizable names and specified positions. In the Agamas they are termed Ganeshvara, the chief of the horde.


For instance the four pairs of Dvarapalas of Vishnu are (i) Chanda and Prachanda ;( ii) Dhatru and Vidhatru; (iii) Jaya and Vijaya; and (iv) Bhardra and Subhadra.

The first named in each pair stands to the right of the doorway; and the other to the left.

Jaya Vijaya

Similarly, the Dvarapalas of Shiva are (i) Nandi and Mahakala (to the East) ;( ii) Herambha and Bhringi (to the South); (iii) Durmukha and Pandura (to the West) and(iv) Sita and Asita (to the North).

The Brahma too is said have four sets of Dvarapalas facing four directions: Satya-Dharma; Priyodbhava – Yajna; Vijaya – Yajnabhadra; and, Sarvakamada – Vibhava.

The Dvarapalas of Skanda are named as Sudeha and Sumukha. They are said to be Brahmin brothers; but , are depicted with four arms.

The four doors of Ganapathi temple are guarded by four sets of Dvarapalas : Avijna – Vijnaraja (East ) ; Suvakthra – Balavan (South ) ; Gajakarna – Gokarna (West ) ; and , Susoumya (Soumya ) – Shubadayaka (Abhaya ) on the North.  They are titled as Ashta-Prathihari (retinue of eight guards). All of them are short statured having cruel looks and carrying fearsome weapons.

Along with the Dvarapalas their subordinates are depicted in minor relief at on the base of the images.

4.3. The pairs of Dvarapalas guarding the temple and placed in its exterior (at the entrances) are larger in size and more ferocious or threatening in appearance , with a “dare not enter” look to their faces and gestures , perhaps to keep away the evil influences. The Dvarapalas flanking the doorway to the sanctum are comparatively modest.

The Dwarapalas in the Hoysala temples are particularly graceful with ornate jewellery to suit the delicately carved interiors; gently holding lotuses as if inviting the devotee to God’s home.


5.1. The historical development in the depictions of Dvarapalas is quite interesting.  The Dvarapalas in the Pallava temples were made fierce. But, the Dvarapalas of the Chola temples are truly awesome intended to strike terror in the hearts of the wicked. They are massive towering up on the walls, snarling you down with sharp oversized fangs, riding on the Yali (mythical beast) making one feel tiny and submissive.   However ,  by the time of Vijayanagar (15-16th century) the Dvarapalas grew a shade smaller but muscular and more ornate; they didn’t appear to lean on a mace or a lance- like weapon but stood tall or cross-legged.


5.2. But the artistic excellence in depicting the Dvarapalas reached its zenith in the Hoysala architecture. Their intricate patterns, adornments are chiselled like a jewel, with extreme care.  They are magnificent works of art in their own right.

hoysala. temple jpg

6.1. Most of the Dvarapala images are sculpted according to the Agama prescriptions. But the shilpis do tend to improvise and avail artistic liberties. Sometimes, Shilpis the temple architects employed massive Dwarapalas at the entrances to symbolically emphasize the grandeur, majesty and magnificence of the Lord residing in the temple.

For instance, the Dwarapalas at the Brihadeshwara temple of Thanjavur are massive. But, what is more interesting is theme the sculptures devised to drive home the message. The entire Dvarapala panel is basically related to the image of the elephant, the largest land-animal, depicted within its frame; and you have to work back to gain an estimate of the size and power of the Dvarapala.

dvarapala brihadesvara

At the bottom of the panel is the image of an elephant which is being swallowed by a serpent which in turn is coiled around the mace held in the hands of the Dvarapala. The serpent looks quite tiny in comparison to the mace on which the Dvarapala has planted his foot. The mace looks like a toy in the hands of the Dvarapala. You can work-back the size and power of the Dvarapala, staring from the elephant.

The Dvarapalas in turn look modest in comparison to the temple and its tower. The Lord who has in his service such gigantic gatekeepers and who resides in such a magnificent temple must truly be mighty and powerful, true to his name Brihadishwara.

Brihadeshvara temple


[A note about Kshetrapalas:

While the Dvarapalas guard the doors of their deities, the Kshetrapala, on the other hand, guards the entire temple –complex. The Kshetrapalas have broader functions; and , in hierarchy placed higher than Dvarapalas.

The Kshetrapala are the protectors of a settlement, a village, a field or a temple. Kshetra literally means a field or specifically a field of activity (In a broader sense the body is the Kshetra the field; and the one who resides in it as the Antaryamin is kshetrajna).

kshetrapala Kshetrapalas are basically the folk guardian deities who are very popular in village cults.  They are entrusted with the task of safe guarding a Kshetra (a village, a field or a temple) against dangers coming from all the eight spatial directions. In the villages of South India Kshetrapalas are placed in small temples or in open spaces outside of the village..Sometimes in the village open- courtyards blocks of stone are designated and worshipped as Kshetrapala. They are offered worship on occasions of important community celebrations.

In a major temple complex, particularly of Shiva, the Kshetrapala is provided a small shrine on the North-East side within the temple courtyard for safeguarding the temple. Worship is offered to Kshetrapala prior to important rituals, praying for efficient and safe conclusion of that ritual. The Kshetrapala on the other hand have broader functions.

Kshetrapalas are installed and worshipped in Jain and Buddhist traditions also

kshetrapala 2

Buddhist Kshetrapala

The Kshetrapalas are identified with Bhairava the terrible aspect of Shiva; as also with the ferocious looking Veerabhadra the son of Shiva. . According to one legend Siva created Kshetrapala along with others to organize the army of Kali when she went to fight the demon Daruka.

In the Sri Vishvanatha temple at Kasi, the Kshetrapala there also performs the function of Dvarapala, to guard the Lord against impure elements.

When Kshetrapala attends to Mahakala, the Lord of death who resides in the burning Ghats, it is said, Kshetrapala wearing a skull cup, holding a chopper, rides a black bear.


When the Kshetrapala are depicted in images, they are generally:  awe inspiring, terrifying, huge, three eyed, untidy, wielding a number of weapons and usually accompanied by dogs .]

Sources and references

I gratefully acknowledge the line drawings and notes from Brahmiya Chitra Karma Sastram by Dr.G.Gnanananda

The other pictures are courtesy of Internet.

 Gangaikondacholapuram by Dr .R. Nagaswamy

Indian Temples and Iconography


Posted by on September 29, 2012 in Temple Architecture


Tags: , , ,

An-Atta, The Buddha Way: Maha-Rahulovada Sutta


I mentioned in   An-atta: On Self and Non-self that because all things are conditioned, ever in flux and transient (anicca) they have no stable, no ‘real’ independent identity (an-atta). And that the an-atta doctrine   is extremely difficult to comprehend.

And, Yet, it is the Buddha’s strategy to free oneself from identities and attachments. The Buddha guided his son Rahula to understanding of impermanence, and of how one has no stable independent identity (anatta). Let’s see how.

Discourses imparted to Rahula

buddha rahula

1.1. The discourses delivered by the Buddha are classified in any number of ways. One such way of classifying his discourses is to treat them as those delivered as explanations or replies  in response to questions posed by bhikkus, ascetics, kings, laymen etc; and , as those imparted by the Buddha voluntarily on his own accord. The better known among the discourses of the latter class are two discourses that the Buddha imparted to his son Rahula.

1.2. The first of the two (ambalatthika-rahulo-vada) was administered to Rahula when he was a boy of seven years. This one teaches Rahula about importance of speaking truth and the courage it takes to speak truth. The Buddha also asks his little boy to exercise diligence in thought, word and deed; and to assess in his mind the consequences that might befall him as well as others.

1.3. The second discourse (Maha- rahulo-vada) was imparted by the Buddha when Rahula was about eighteen years of age, on the threshold of blossoming into a fine young man. This Sutta teaches the ways to develop the perception of impermanence, abandoning the conceit of “I” notion (an-atta); and developing Mindfulness of the skandas (the aggregates that form the body) and Mindfulness of breathing.

The following is a brief account of the Sutta in a summarized form.

Maha-Rahulovada Sutta

rahula sutta


2.1. The Buddha addressed in this Sutra as Sugata (one who speaks only what is true and beneficial) states that all matter in the world, whether be it in past, present or future; far or near; gross or subtle; or whatever should be perceived with the right understanding,”This is not mine; this is not ‘I’; this is not my atta (self)”.

He clarifies that sensations, perceptions, mental formations (sanskara) or consciousness or whatever are also matter. They too should be viewed with the right understanding,”This is not mine; this is not ‘I’; this is not my atta (self)”.

2.2. He then goes on to explain that the body is composed of five elements (dhatu):

:- of earth (pathavi dhatu – the property  of solidity in body : solids, semi-solids, fibers etc.);

:- of water  (apo dhatu –fluids and the property of fluidity in the body);

:- of fire (tejo dhatu – heat and properties of heat in the body);

:- of air (vayo dhatu – air and properties of air and gases in the body); and ,

:- of space (akasa dhatu– element of space and of void between the particles of matter and which separates them as also those in the property of space; and  that which takes in what is consumed by the body).

2.3. Each of these elements (dhatu) in the body is one with the corresponding element in the outside world.

3.1. The Buddha asks Rahula to cultivate the practice of meditation in succession, on each of these elements, to become in mind like unto each element.

:- “Like unto earth not distressed, shamed or disgusted when unclean things are cast upon it”.

:- “Like unto water, not attached; not distressed, shamed or disgusted when it comes in contact with clean or unclean things”.

:- “Like unto fire not distressed, shamed or disgusted when it burns up a clean thing or an unclean thing.”

:- “Like unto air not distressed, shamed or disgusted when it blows upon a clean thing or an unclean thing”.

:- “Like unto the sky that does not stand upon anything and yet covers all agreeable and disagreeable things”.

He instructs Rahula to appreciate the nature; the agreeable and disagreeable attributes of each element; but, to reject identity with each of those elements, dhatus, so that “all agreeable and disagreeable contacts with those elements that arise will not overwhelm your mind”.

3.2. At the end of each cycle of meditation, the element that is meditated upon should be seen as it really is, with right-understanding, thus: “This is not mine; this is not ‘I’; this is not my atta, self”. Having thus rightly understood each element as it really is, one’s mind becomes free from attachment to each of the elements.


4.1. The Buddha then asks Rahula to cultivate the  practice of meditation on other forms of matter too :

:- on goodness (metta) to be rid of ill will;

:- on compassion (karuna) to be rid of desire to injure;

:- on sympathetic joy (ananda) to be rid of aversion;

:- on equanimity (samata) to be rid of malice;

:- on foulness (dvesa) to be rid of attachment (raga); and

:- to cultivate the practice of meditation on the concept of impermanence (kshanika) to be rid of the conceit of atta ‘self’.

4.2. The nature and attributes of these sensations, perceptions, and mental formations too should be viewed with the right understanding: “This is not mine; this is not ‘I’; this is not my atta, self”.

4.3. He thereafter teaches the practice of mindfulness of the in-coming and out-going breath; and says ‘if you practice mindfulness again and again it should be immensely fruitful and greatly advantageous”.

Practice of Mindfulness


5.1. Rahula then practices mindfulness as he sits in a secluded place under a tree, cross-legged and keeping his body erect. He gently breaths in and breaths out with complete mindfulness.

“ When he makes a long inhalation, he knows: ’I am making a long inhalation’.

When he makes a short inhalation, he knows: ‘I am making a short inhalation’.

He trains himself to be clearly conscious of the whole stretch of the in-coming breath (at its beginning, at its middle and at its end).

He trains himself to be clearly conscious of the whole stretch of the out-going breath (at its beginning, at its middle and at its end).

He trains himself to calm down the strong inhalation as he breaths in.

He trains himself to calm down the strong exhalation as he breaths out.”

“Each time he inhales and exhales, he trains himself to be clearly conscious of sensations of piti (joyful satisfaction), of sukha (bliss), and of vedana (sensations and perceptions).

As he inhales and exhales, he is clearly conscious of volition (will or the ability to decide); and, He trains himself to calm down volitional activities as he inhales and exhales each time’.

“He trains himself to inhale and exhale with settled mind (on object of contemplation) liberated from defilements”.

“He trains himself to inhale and to exhale with repeated contemplation of each of these aspects of Dhamma (phenomena):  impermanence of self (an-atta); of destruction of attachment or craving or passion (raga); cessation of conditioned existence; and the discarding of defilements”

5.2. The Buddha concludes the teaching to his son:

“Rahula, mindfulness of inhalation and exhalation when thus cultivated and practiced repeatedly is immensely fruitful and greatly advantageous.

Rahula, when mindfulness of inhalation is cultivated and practiced repeatedly the final inhalation of breath (moment of death) comes to cessation consciously”.

5.3. It is said; venerable Rahula delighted and rejoiced at the words of the Bhagava.


 For more on Mindfulness please check here.

Please also check the links provided under.

Sources and references:

Twenty-five Suttas from Majjima pannasa;   Satguru publications; Delhi; 1991.

Pictures are from Internet


Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddha, Buddhism, Indian Philosophy


Tags: , , ,

An-atta: On Self and Non-self

Dear Sreenivasa Rao Sb,

 Form your various blogs I noted that Buddha thought [1] everything in the universe is changing except the change; [2] consciousness is nebulous and cannot be defined. Probably Buddha did not discuss the existence or non existence of God or he had a clear opinion?

Recently I read a book in Telugu authored by one Buddha Ghosha which said that Buddha believed that there is nothing like “self”? Is it correct?

Saying that there is nothing called soul which is constant is different from saying soul is self but also changes [evolves], splits [as water drop lets in a river] and recombines [as genes do] is different. What is the correct position of Buddha?

May I expect a small blog or knol on this?


DMR Sekhar.

dhyani buddha

Dear Shri Sekhar, That is a tough one; and is a much debated one too. I am neither qualified nor I claim to have the right answers. Let me try.

1.1. The subject you mentioned refers to the Buddhist concept of Anatta (an-atman or an-atmavada) meaning the doctrine of no-permanent soul. The Buddhist tradition believes that the root of all  suffering is in regarding the “self” as a permanent or a static entity or as an unchanging essence; and clinging to it.

The Buddha a few days after his first discourse at Saranath on the outskirts of Varanasi, speaks about his concept of Anatta in his second discourse ‘Anatta-lakkhana –sutta’. The teaching instructs one not to identify self with ‘”Any kind of feeling whatever…Any kind of perception whatever…Any kind of determination whatever… Any kind of consciousness whatever…”

Rupam (material form) is an-atta (not the self); vedana (sensation) is an-atta; sanna (perception) is an-atta; samkhara (pre-dispositions) is an-atta; vinnanam (consciousness ) is an-atta (not the self) “ …” whether past, future, or present; whether gross or subtle; whether in oneself or in others; whether inferior or superior: whether far or near; must, with right understanding of things as they really are, be regarded thus: ‘This is not mine. This is not I. This is not my self …”

Please recall the five aggregates or the skandas that I mentioned in my post Consciousness- a Buddhist view. None of the skandas or all of it is construed as one’s self.

1.2. The Buddha did not deny existence of feelings, thoughts, sensations or whatever; but, he did not also talk about a permanent conscious substance that experiences all these. According to him, the streams of consciousness ever changing, arise and perish leaving behind no permanent “thinker”.In other words, it seems to suggest that there is no “self” apart from the process.

2.1. However, it must be mentioned that Buddhism does not deny a soul altogether. The Buddhist view is that the belief in a changeless “I-entity” (soul) is the result of incorrect interpretation of one’s experiences. It seems to me that in the Buddhist view, self/soul is not perceived as a permanent  entity, or a static substance, or as an essence, but it is understood as a dynamic process which one experiences as perceptions, ideas or desires. It says; self is wrongly taken as a fixed, enduring entity. Because, according to Buddhism, there is not anything which is enduring, fixed, and eternal. Everything is interdependent and changing. Everything is in constant flux and has no astitva or existence outside of shifting contexts. As Abhidhamma kosa explains that there is no soul apart from feeling, ideas, volitions, etc “There is no self separate from a non-self”.

2.2. The Buddha favored a middle path avoiding the extremes of an entity called soul that survives birth after birth; and that of a soul which perishes as the body withers away. The Buddha explained a human as the dynamic inter-relation of five skandas. “Truly, if one holds the view that self is identical with the body, in that case there can be no holy life. Again, if one holds the view that self is one thing and the body another, in that case, too, there can be no holy life. Avoiding both extremes the Perfect One teaches the doctrine that lies in the middle.” (Sauyutta Nikaya: 2, 61).

2.3. Thus, it appears to me, translating the Buddhist concept of an-atma or anatta as ‘no soul’ or ‘self does not exist at all ‘is rather misleading. An-atta, I reckon, means ‘self is not an enduring entity or eternal essence’.

The Buddha did not deny a soul; but maintained that it was not the ultimate reality (dharmataa). He seemed to imply that an-atta, whatever that term meant, was not The Truth (dharma). An-atta, I reckon, (just as a-dvaita), is a negative expression pointing to the un-definable positive ultimate reality (dharmataa).


3.1. The Buddha is often blamed for maintaining silence on the key question of a permanent self. But, in fact, the Buddha did explain  why he chose not to give out a partial answer of either  ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The Sutta Nipaata (6.400) elaborately narrates the context and the reason for the Buddha’s silence. I am mentioning its substance in a brief and a summarized form:

Vacchagotta the wanderer questions the Master “what have you to say about the existence of self (atta)?”

The Exalted One was silent.

Vacchagotta   again questioned “Is there no such thing as the self?” .

The Exalted One was silent.

At which Vacchagotta just walked out.

Soon thereafter, venerable Ananda the disciple enquires the Master why he chose to be silent.

The Master explains:

“Ananda, if when asked   ‘Does the self exists?’ had I replied to him ‘yes, the self exists’ I would then be siding with all those Samanas and Brahmanas who regard soul as eternal and unchanging (eternalists).And, that reply  would have also been not consistent with my knowledge that all things are impermanent….”

“Had I replied; ‘no, the self does not exist ‘I would then be siding all those Samanas and Brahmanas who are annihilationist (those who view death as the annihilation of consciousness).And, that reply would have added to the bewilderment of Vacchagotta who was already bewildered. He would have exclaimed in disgruntle ‘Formerly I had a self; but now I have one no more’ …”

3.2. In case the Buddha sided with the annihilationist that would have led to denying his own concepts of kamma, rebirth, and dependent origination etc.

3.3. Thus, the Buddha rejected the two extremes concepts of ‘Permanent Self’, and ‘Annihilation’.

3.4. The an-atta doctrine, undoubtedly, is extremely difficult to comprehend. Yet, it is the Buddha’s strategy to free oneself from identities and attachments.


4.1. The Buddhism believes that the self is a changing phenomenon. It is like a raindrop. When it is in the ocean it is a part of the ocean ; when it evaporates it becomes a part of the cloud; and, when it rains it becomes a part of stream or a lake or a well. It is its functions and relationship which give form to its character.

4.2. The Buddha was reluctant to define the indefinable which is the true self. The Upanishads too chose to describe the Truth as that which cannot be apprehended by mind. They also said (in almost the same words) the correct view is to assert ‘This is not mine; this am I not; this is not my self’.  Both the Buddha and the Upanishads refused to be attached to an identity.

To put it in another way, The Vedanta’s call of realizing ones true identity -is a philosophical view. The Buddhist interpretation of letting go all identities is an  objective prescription.

4.3. By negating identity with the conditioned skandas (in his second discourse: Anatta-lakkhana-sutta) the Buddha was pointing to the unconditioned impersonal nature of true self. That was also the view of the Upanishads.

5.1. Both accept that attaining liberation is the aim; rather than merely understanding what liberation is all about. Both accept that conceptual thinking is part of the problem; and therefore philosophy too must eventually be transcended or let go. Because, ultimately it is one’s experience that truly matters. Experience is the key.

Therefore, both the Buddha and Sri Shankara asserted that the truest test of all is one’s own experience.

5.2. The difference between the two, as I mentioned elsewhere, was that Sri Shankara described the reality from outside, as it were, because that is the only perspective from which it can be understood as One. Sri Shankara was basically a philosopher; and as all philosophers do, he looks upon the whole of reality objectively and attempts to comprehend its structure. It is as if the philosophizing intellect takes a look at the whole of existence from outside of it.

5.3. But the Buddha, the yogi, was describing his experience. He realized (just as Sri Ramana)  that one cannot get outside of reality and describe it as an object; because one is inseparable from that reality. He also believed too much philosophizing and clinging to ideas is an obstruction to enlightenment. He advocated: let go all attachments, even the attachment to ideas and concepts.





Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddha, Buddhism, Indian Philosophy


Tags: , , , ,