Category Archives: Dakshinamurthy

Sri Dakshinamurthy iconography and some other questions: Part Two

Continued from Part One

Let’s now come to the questions you framed.

Why Dakshinamurthi facing South direction?

Are there any specialties in south direction suggested in Agamas and in Shilpa Sastras?

‘Kuragasanam’ is one of the type of Asanas?

Can you tell me the types of ‘ Chadamudi ‘(Hair Types?)

Why there are such different types of Dakshinamurthi in South Indian temples?

In North India, we can’t see the Dakshinamurthi idol… Why it is so?

In your sixth chapter, I saw a Dakshinamurthi photo. It is very different. Can you tell me from where it is?


 A. Why Dakshinamurthi facing South direction?

1.1. The direction towards which a temple-deity faces depends upon its disposition and attributes. It also is according to this triple orientation – towards the Sun, towards the centre, towards man. The majority of the preserved temples do face the east, but it is not necessary that they physically must. The other directions could be described as being east. To the tantrics that have some obscure symbolism about Sunrise in the east, the directions of south, west and north each have relative value or significance. In Tantra, any direction may notionally be taken to represent east.

1.2. Most temples face east, because it is believed that the doorway of the sanctum facing east is best (uttamottama – most auspicious); west is next best (uttama); even south is permissible (madhyama); and to the north it is inferior (adhamam), not desirable. (Vimanarchana-kalpa patala 3)

2.1. As regards Sri Dakshinamurthy, as you mentioned, he most usually faces the South (except perhaps in few cases such as in the temple at Tiru Anjaikkalam in Kerala where Sri Dakshinamurthy faces east). The south-orientation of Sri Dakshinamurthy appears to be based on the notion that he is seated in the Himalayas looking towards the land-mass where the aspirants reside; that is towards south.

2.2. Another way of understanding it is; Suta –samhita describes the five faces or five aspects of Shiva which are turned towards four cardinal directions and the space above, as: on the West: Sadyojata (representing earth, and pervading ego); on the North: Vamadeva (water and manas); on the South: Aghora (fire and Buddhi); on the East: Tatpurusha (air and maya); and above all: Isana (akasha and soul).

The South face of Shiva is Aghora .It is to your right-hand-side (Dakshina) as you stand facing the Linga of Shiva. Aghora (that which is not dreadful) is the benevolent, benign face of Shiva; and it is directly related to Vidya (the knowledge that liberates) and then to fire (illumination) according to Vatulagama (1.67-69).

Aghora the benevolent is predominantly of sattva nature with minimal of rajas and tamas. It is a state of pure being and energy. It is pure knowledge (para-vidya); and, Sri Dakshinamurthy represents that knowledge.

Sri Dakshinamurthy who corresponds to Aghora the south aspect of Shiva is therefore represented facing south.

3.1. Another, perhaps more plausible, reason could be the one that has to do with the nature and disposition of Sri Dakshinamurthy.

According to the Padma-samhita (kriya-pada 2, 33-34) the door of the sanctum facing east is productive of happiness; the door facing the west enhances health and nourishment; the door facing north brings wealth and prosperity; and the sanctum door facing south makes for liberation.

Since Sri Dakshinamurthy the Adi-Guru teaches knowledge (jnana-karaka) that liberates (mokshadam) it seems appropriate he faces south, according to Padma samhita.

B. Why Dakshinamurthy?

4.1. It is mentioned repeatedly that he is called Dakshinamurthy because he is facing south.And also because the deity is placed in the southern quarter of the temple .Some say ; the name of the deity may have been derived because of this practice.  However, there are few other explanations too.

4.2. According to Tantra tradition in which Sri Dakshinamurthy is a revered Guruof the Kadi (samaya) School, the term Dakshina means a woman and refers to the feminine principle, which can create, unfold and manifest. When Dakshina assumes a form along with Shiva it results in Dakshinamurthi an androgynous aspect of Shiva. The Tantra tradition Dakshinachara regards and worships Sri Dakshinamurthy as Ardha-nari.

4.3. The great seer Sri Ramana Maharishi who perhaps is closest to Sri Dakshinamurthy in his ideals and in his teaching methods, explained the term as Dakshina + Amurthy, meaning a formless entity, one which is capable but is without form.

4.4. He is called Dakshinamurthy because of his boundless compassion (Dakshinya) towards all creation.

4.5.Dakshina , it is said , also means favourable (anukula ) to the devotee.

4.6. Dakshina is also interpreted as grace. Sri Dakshinamurthy is regarded the very embodiment of grace .It is explained that ‘grace’ (anugraha) is an act of unbound compassion releasing the individual from the coils of samsara. As Guru, he is the sublime ideal of spiritual wisdom adorned with grace towards all aspirants. And, only through his grace can one attain liberation.

4.7. And, It is also mentioned that the term ‘daksha’ denotes one who is capable, skilful or an expert. Daksha also signifies the intelligent or competent. Dakshinamurthy is the Daksha, the Master in music, arts and in all that is accomplished artistically; an exponent, an authority on scriptural learning; an adept in Tantra-vidya; a supreme Yogi; and a teacher beyond compare who teaches the true knowledge that liberates.

C. Are there any specialities in south direction suggested in Agamas and in Shilpa Sastras?

5.1. Orientation is an essential aspect of the yajna and construction of the yajna vedi, the temples, the towns and buildings. Meticulous care is taken to ensure location of those constructions exactly along the desired axis. That was because of the belief that each direction was complimented by the attributes associated with the gods who presided over it. The directions were therefore of much significance to the Vedic people.

5.2. The traditional texts describe the arrangement and attribute of the Dikpalas the Regents who preside over directions. This arrangement is generally followed in the Tantra texts as also in astrology, architectures and Vastu. The classification is briefly as under:

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

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.

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

5.3. Since we are talking about the south direction in particular, let’s take a look at it.

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.

Yama is the Regent and protector of the South. Yama the lord of death is depicted as 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 it happened in the case of Savitri and Pramadvara* in the Mahabharata. 

savitri-yama-1  pramadvara

[ * 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)]

Yama is also an adept in Atma-vidya, the knowledge of Self.In the katha Upanishad, Yama, explains to boy Nachiketa: “that knowing which, everything else becomes known?”

Yama Nachiketas by Shri Nanda Lal Bose

Sri Dakshinamurthy too was an adept in Atma-vidya. (I am not suggesting a connection).

D. Kuragasanam’ is one of the types of Asanas?

6.1. The Shilpa texts (Ahirbudhnya samhita and others) together describe as many as twenty asanas or sitting postures. They also describe about eleven types of seats or pedestals, also termed as asanas, on which the iconic representations are lodged.

The Kuragasana you mentioned is in fact Kurangasana. It merely refers to the fact that Sri Dakshinamurthy is seated on a throne or pedestal or a seat covered with deer-skin. Kuranga, in Sanskrit, refers to Indian antelope. In Poet Jayadeva’s celestial poem Gita Govinda, Sri Radha covered in the fragrance of Kasturi (deer’s fat or musk) is described as kuranga madena .Please click here for a glossary of animal/creature names mentioned in the texts.

E. Can you tell me the types of ‘ Chadamudi ‘(Hair Types?)

7.1. Providing elaborate, graceful and attractive hairstyles (Kesha vinyasa or kesha-alankara), which besides enhancing the beauty of the sculpture would also bring out the status, the nature and the attribute of the subject, received a great deal of attention. This was one area along with ornamentation (alamkara) where the shilpis could give wings to their imagination and enterprise; and exhibit originality. Some Shipa texts carry a chapter usually titled Mauli lakshanam, but there is no comprehensive list of hair styles. Some names are not supported by illustrations; and therefore we do not know what those style-names imply. And in some cases the names of the headgears (kirita or mukuta) have got mixed up with the names of hair styles.

The following are some of those Kesha – vinyasas, so far as I know .This is not exhaustive.

(1) Jata-mukuta: A hair-do; hair arranged in long braids and then tied around. It is raised into conical form resembling a crown. The height of the jata-mukuta would be about 1 ½ times the length of the face. (Shiva, Brahma)


(2) Jata-bhara: long strands of hair let lose flowing down on to the shoulders, around the ears. It could be either neatly combed stylishly and decoratively; or be just dishevelled.(Shiva , Dakshinamurthy)

(3) Jata-mandala: Long strands of thick hair woven into three braids are wound in circular forms and held behind on the neck like a disc or a fan. Its other variation is: some braids are let flowing on to shoulder and back. (Shiva)


(4) Sarpa-mauli: Thick strands of hair are woven (pigtailed) to look like snakes; and, tied up and arranged turban-like. The hair-do would look like a turban made of snakes.(Shiva)

(5) Jata-bandha: Strands of hair made rope-like are wound into ball-shape or spindle-like and placed atop the head. (Rishis, Devas, Narada)

(6) Vikirna-Jata-bandha: Strands of hair made rope-like are spread out to flow on the back, on the shoulders. When the person dances or spins around, the hair- do spreads and whirls in the air. (Nataraja)

(7) Agni-kesha: strands of hair either loose or pigtailed spread out horizontally like the tongues of a spreading flame. (Agni, shakthi, aggressive characters)


(8) Kesha –Bandha: The strands of hair are neatly combed and arranged into various conical forms of a series of diminishing tiers and placed in position by tying up the arrangement securely. There are varieties of decorative and stylish hair arrangements under this category. In most cases the conical hair-do is arranged to look like a mounted crown and decorated with ornaments. There are countless variations. (Devis and Queens).

(9) Shirastraka: strands of hair are neatly combed, made into number of bunches and each tied into number of small knots to look like rows of water-bubbles. The ends of each bunch are tied into small ball-like knots; and arranged on top of the head. (The Buddha)


10) Kuntala: Long locks of hair neatly combed, parted three-ways and tied into decorative shapes or ball-like, mounted on top of head either to one side or to the middle of the head. The ball-like arrangement when it is to one side of the head is just over the over the ear .The hair-do is well ornamented. (Andal, Sathyabhama, Balakrishna)

(11) Dhummila: collecting the hair, tying up the bunch into knots of various shapes. Bunched knot is usually placed behind. It is usually as broad as the person’s face; and wound into three or four rounds. (Devis, Queens)


(12) Alakacuda: Specially suited for curly hair. It could be used in depictions of children, women or even men. Hair is neatly parted in the middle and made into two bunches one on the right and the other on the left. Then the bunch on the left is brought over to the right; and similarly the bunch on the left is brought to the left. They then are together tied into ball shapes; and held behind or to the side of the head. Tiny wisps of hair are arranged around the face, like bees around a flower. This depiction is extensively used.(women in queens quarters, and other general use)

F. Why there are such different types of Dakshinamurthi in South Indian temples?

8.1. We discussed in fair detail the variations in the depictions of Sri Dakshinamurthy image. Well…the aspect of the divinity one chooses to worship depends on one’s needs and aspirations. As you noticed, the Vyakhyana, medha – Jnana versions and their combinations appear to be popular .They are worshipped praying for scriptural knowledge, intelligence and spiritual progress.

G. in North India, we can’t see the Dakshinamurthi idol… Why it is so?

9.1. I agree, Sri Dakshinamurthy shrines are more in number in the South. But, Sri Dakshinamurthy is worshipped even in the North; and there are some temples dedicated to him. As we already saw, Sri Dakshinamurthy is worshipped in Linga form at the Shiva temples in Kathmandu (Nepal) and in Ujjain. I understand there is an old temple dedicated to Sri Dakshinamurthy in Varodra.

9.2. Shri Dakshinamurti Pitha (Varanasi), with the temple of the deity, is an ancient one. Its history goes back to about the tenth century. The Math is still in active service and the worship continues.

9.3. The Dakshinamurthy tradition was prevalent in Kashmir region too. Abhinavagupta’s teacher (11th century) pleased with his student’s excellence compares him to Sri Dakshinamurthy. Later, Madhuraja Yogin a student of Abhinavagupta reveres his Guru as an incarnation of Sri Dakshinamurthy.” He sits like Dakshinamurti himself as though he has taken an incarnation in Kashmir….May the glorious Dakshinamurti in the form of Abhinava, who is an incarnation of Shrikantha and who has come to Kashmir out of deep compassion, protect us.”

9.4. The noted scholar Shri TA Gopinatha Rao in his book Elements of Hindu iconography (p 273 vol. 2, First edition, 1914) identified a niche figure in the temple of early sixth century at Deogarh MP as Daksinamurti.

9.5. The worship of Sri Dakshinamurthy perhaps travelled along with the Indian traders of 10th -11th century to Far East. The Phnam Rung Siva temple, Pimay , a Khmer temple complex built during 10th to 13th century in North east Thailand, has a panel depicting Sri Dakshinamurthy in a teaching posture.

9.6. For some reason, the shrines of Sri Dakshinamurthy are not many in North India. I am sorry, I am not aware of its precise reason.

dakshina at Siddheswar temple

H. In your sixth chapter, I saw a Dakshinamurthi photo. It is very different. Can you tell me from where it is?

10.1. I presume, you are referring to the following picture.

It is a creation of Shilpi Siddanthi Sri Siddalinga Swamy of Mysore. He crafted the image in the early stages of career while he about twenty years of age (1903?). I understand the image is located in the caves of the Sri Shambhulingeshwara Hills (Chilakawadi Betta) near Chamarajanagar. Sri Dakshinamurty is depicted seated in Yoga in utkutikasana  with both the legs drawn up on to the seat , bent and crossed  like scissors and held in position by paada-patta or Yoga –patta (as in Yoga Nrusimha) which passes round the legs and the body , The four armed figure is holding akshamala in upper-right-hand; veena in upper-left-hand ( he is just holding it , but not playing on it ); a palm- leaf text in the lower-left-hand ; and gesturing vyakhyana mudra  in the lower-right –hand. A prabhavali is placed behind the figure of Sri Dakshinamurthy.

It looks different, as you said, because it is a combination of three aspects of Sri Dakshinamurthy: the Yoga-murti, the Vina-dhara and the vyakhyana-murthi. It is Yoga because it is sitting in yogic posture; vina-dhara because it is holding in its back left hand a veena; and it is vyakhyana-murthi because its front right hand is in vyakhyana-mudra, while its front left hand is holding a text.

It is said; the full view of the sculpture reveals that the deity is sitting under a banyan tree; the figures of six Rishis are carved on the lower portion of the pedestal; and Nandi with four arms and human body is standing besides the Rishis.

The sculpture, it appears, was inspired by a similar depiction placed in a niche at the Shiva temple in Nanjangudu ; and , by an illustration in Sritattvanidhi  of Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar III the then Maharajah of Mysore (1794-1868).

Sri Dakshina murti


I trust this might be of some use to you .Please also check the references/links I provided. I wish you Godspeed in your project and in all your endeavours. Regards.

Sources and references

I gratefully acknowledge the line-drawings Of Kesha –vinyasa, hair styles From the wonderful text Brahmiya chitra karma sastram by Dr. G Gnanananda

Elements of Hindu iconography by TA Gopinatha Rao

Elements of Indian Art by SP Gupta and SP Asthana

Devalaya vastu by  SK Ramachandra Rao

Other picture from Internet.


Posted by on October 3, 2012 in Dakshinamurthy


Tags: , ,

Sri Dakshinamurthy iconography and some other questions: Part One

I am doing a doctorate on Sri Dakshinamurthy. It will be helpful if you can answer the following questions:

Why Dakshinamurthi facing South direction?

Are there any specialties in south direction suggested in Agamas and in Shilpa Sastras?

Can you tell me the types of ‘ chadamudi ‘(Hair Types?)

Why there are such different types of Dakshinamurthi in South Indian temples?

 In North India, we can’t see the Dakshinamurthi idol… Why it is so?

 In your sixth chapter, I saw a Dakshinamurthi photo. It is very different. Can you tell me from where it is?

Please also say abbot iconography.  Thanks]


Dear SD, Thank you for asking specific questions. I notice, all your questions pertain to the depiction of the Sri Dakshinamurthy image. Let’s therefore, for the present, confine our discussion to the various iconographic forms and representations of Sri Dakshinamurthy. I am not sure I know the right answers to all your questions. Let me try.

Before attempting to answer your questions let’s briefly talk about the general features and characteristics of the various forms of Sri Dakshinamurthy image. This might help the discussion to follow.

1. The Principle

1.1. Sri Dakshinamurthy is regarded an aspect of Shiva as the universal teacher. He is the young and radiant Adi-Guru imparting knowledge that liberates. He is the very personification of spiritual wisdom and eminence; and one who is immersed in Self. His teaching is through the subtlest form of speech- para vak – beyond the range of the physical ear, abiding in silence; the sort of silence that envelops within itself all other forms of expressions. It is the silence that underlines the limitations of rational knowledge, futilities of the blind alleys of metaphysical queries and the frailty hollowness of words. His teaching transcends speech and thought; it is experience. His listeners are learned and wise; ripe in intuitional understanding. The Guru’s language of silence dispels the doubts, the confusion and uncertainties in the minds of those around sitting in silence.

1.2. The vata vruksha under which the Guru sits symbolizes   creation as also the expanding universe which regenerates itself. The tree known as akshya vruksha with its unique growth pattern also represents the eternal principle, the Dharma. (Vata derived from vat means: to expand, to surround and to encompass). It is meant to suggest that Sri Dakshinamurthy who sits under the vata tree presides over the cyclic processes of srishti (creation), sthiti (preservation), samhara (absorption or gathering up), tirobhava (suppression) and anugraha (revealing true knowledge).

2. Iconography

2.1. The iconographic descriptions of Sri Dakshinamurthy are not uniform. Each of the major texts – Amsumadbheda, Karanagama, Kamikagama, Shilparatna and others – carries varying descriptions of the features, postures and ayudhas of Sri Dakshinamurthy. In addition, there are several versions of his aspects and attributes. The following, in brief, is a summary position of Sri Dakshinamurthy- iconography.

2.2. Sri Dakshinamurthy is depicted as a young person with serene, tranquil and pleasing countenance seated in a secluded spot in the Himalayas, under a banyan tree (vata vrksha), upon a throne or a rock or an elevated platform ( adhastad vata-vrkshasya sailad urdhvam ) covered with tiger-skin (vyagara charmoparish that tu ) or deer-skin (kurangasana). Sri Dakshinamurthy who is kevala murti (single or not accompanied by another deity or a consort) is always depicted singly.

He is usually depicted with four arms. In his upper right hand he holds a rosary (aksha-maala) in kapittha-mudra, as if counting beads of japa-mala; or a snake (sarpa: symbol of tantric knowledge) or both. Sometimes he is also shown holding a drum (damaru) with a snake coiling around it. The damaru the srishti (creation) aspect of Shiva represents the primeval sound and rhythm from which the universe emerges and into which it dissolves before re-emerging. In his upper-left-hand he holds a flaming torch (Agni) symbolizing enlightenment or illumination, removing the darkness of ignorance. It also stands for his samhara (absorption or gathering back the created existence) aspect. His lower-left-hand resting on his left knee (the back of the hand touching the knee) gestures varada-mudra bestowing a boon (varadam vamahastam ); and, it also holds a bunch of kusha grass or a palm-leaf manuscript symbolizing scriptural knowledge. The lower-right-hand gestures grace (his anugraha aspect) or assurance (abhaya-mudra) or jnana –mudra (thumb and middle/index finger meet each other and touch the  heart  ( jnana  mudram hrdi ethane);  the hand faces inwards ( abhyantara mukham karma)   as in the temple at Ilambyankottur (conveying that knowledge comes from within) or in chin-mudra (the index finger of his right hand is bent and touching the tip of his thumb. The other three fingers are stretched up) indicating identity of the Absolute ;and the individual ; or Vykhyana-mudra (similar to chin-mudra) – but, facing the viewer as if imparting a teaching ;  seated in a relaxed position.

Chin mudra

A rare depiction of Jnana-mudra at Ilambyankottur; And the other to the right is chin mudra [ and its next is vyakhyana mudra (Pallava sculpture)

2.3. Sri Dakshinamurthy is most usually depicted in a seated posture (aasana); and at times in standing (sthanaka) as in his Veena-dhara variation (holding a veena). But, he is not depicted in reclining (shayana) postures. While seated in Virasana, his right leg is stretched down (lambaka padam) and is stamping upon (samharaka) the dwarf (apasmara – purusha: representing ignorance and delusion) — (apasmaroparishthat tu lamba-pada-talam nyaset). This suppression (nirodha) of ignorance is described as the tirobhava aspect of Sri Dakshinamurti. And, his left foot bent at the knee is resting on his right knee or thigh (sayanam padakam or kunchita-paada). His sitting posture is relaxed; his body position and carriage is free from bends and rigidity. His general aspect is calm and meditative.

Sri dakshinamurthy

2.4. His luxuriant hair of matted locks  (jatabhara, jatabhandha, jatamandala or jatamakuta) , said to represent his sthithi (preservation) aspect, is adorned and enriched with jewelry, the crescent moon, a snake and bunches of wild flowers such as durdhura (dhatura). The mass of the jatas is either disheveled or held together by a snake or a band (patta-bandha) and arranged in conical shapes to resemble a crown. In the middle of jatabhara resides a small smiling face of the Ganga. Curly hair locks fall onto his shoulders and upper arms. On his forehead he bears a vertical urna (third eye).

It is said ; dhurdhura (dhatura) and other forest-flowers as well as the cobra must be positioned over the right of his head ; the skull and moon over the left ; and , Ganga in the middle.

Sri Dakshinamurthy is modestly adorned with rudraksha-mala; garlands of wild flowers; flowers above his ears (karna avathamsam). The yagnopavita (sacred cord) runs across his chest which is adorned with sandal-paste, garlands and necklaces. He is ornamented with kati-bandha jewelled waist band; naga-bandha armlets; anklets with little bells;  bracelets ; kirti-mukha earring in his right ear and conch- shell earrings (shankha-patra) or an open circular earring (karnavali or vrutta-abharana) in his left earlobe.

The Shipa text Shilpa-ratna suggests that Sri Dakshinamurthy must be adorned with five emblems (pancha mudra ) : the gem on the forehead ( mani ) ;  the ear rings (kundala) ; the necklaces (kanthika ) ; the bracelets on arms and legs (ruchaka) ; and  , the girdle (mekhala ) . These ornaments are said to symbolize : spiritual power ( virya ) ; forbearance (kshanti ) ; generosity (daana ) ; moral virtue (shila ) ; and wisdom  (jnana ) .

2.5. The nature of Sri Dakshinamurthy is sattva, pure, blissful , bright and serene (shantha ). His complexion is radiant like a clear crystal (shuddha spatikopama) or soothingly bright as the jasmine flower or the moon (kundendu dhavala prabha ) . He is also described as glowing like gold ( hema prabha ) or dark (shyamabha) .  Some Tantric texts describe his complexion as white as milk (kshira-gaura) or snow-white (Kailasadri – nibha ) absorbed in in self (bhava shuddha ). His countenance is free from even the traces of disturbance (klesha vargitam ). A soothing and gentle smile lights up his expression. His steady gaze  is fixed upon the tip of his nose (nasagra drshti yuk )  or on the tip his toes (padagre drhsti patam ).  His eyes must be slightly open ( kimchid unmiltair netraih) as in contemplation ( yoga dhyananusarinam ). He is dressed in white upper  garments (sittottariya) and yajnopavita (sita-upavita). His lower garment is of tiger skin (vyagra charmambara ) or silk (divyambara ) .

2.6. The great teacher-god is surrounded by many animals particularly the deer and the Nandi bull. The rishis eager to absorb the Guru’s teaching are at his feet. Their numbers and names are mentioned differently in different texts. For instance, Karanagama mentions four rishis: Agasthya, Pulasthya, Vishwamitra and Angoras. The  Kamikagama mentions seven rishis :  Kaushika, Kashyapa, Bharadwaja, Atri, Gautama and two others. And, the Amsumad-bhedagama mentions seven rishis as Narada, Vashista, Jamadagni, Bhrighu, Bharadwaja, Sanaka, and Agasthya. The  aged sages must all be shown with matted hair coiled up ( jata bhara) dressed in white and wearing rudraksha maala . Their height is prescribed not to reach above the chest of Sri Dakshinamurthi.

The texts also mention the number of sages depicted could even be one , two or three (esham ekam dvayam vapi trayam vaparsvayor nyaseth).


3.1. The aforesaid are the general features in depiction of Sri Dakshinamurthy. In specific illustrations, he could be depicted as either sitting or as standing ; sitting either in virasana or otherwise on a rock or on an elevated seat covered by deer-skin or tiger-skin; either with the legs resting or not resting on the apasmara; he could sit either under the banyan tree or not; his complexion could be fair or golden or red or dark; he could either be surrounded or not surrounded by the rishis. There are also variations in the details of his gestures (mudra), the ayudhas he holds and their positions (some  versions depict holding a kamandalu water pot or mriga deer or snake noose or a baton like danda or an axe in one of his hands). There are no strict scriptural prescriptions in these regard.

These details also vary with the disposition or the particular aspect of Sri Dakshinamurthy that is depicted. Some details are revised as a function of the period (Pallava, Chola or later times) and the region (South or North).

4. Variations

4.1. Sri Dakshinamurthy forms are immensely diversified; there are number of versions of his form. Apart from his spiritual eminence, Sri Dakshinamurthy is regarded a Master in Music, in Tantra and in Yoga. The various styles and forms of his depiction are basically related to one or more of these attributes.

Sri Dakshinamurthy representations are grouped under four broad categories that delineate his aspects and attributes: as a teacher of music and arts (veenadhara Dakshinamurthy); as the supreme yogi who teaches practice of the control of body and mind for realization of the self (Yoga Dakshinamurthy); as the Guru who bestows jnana (jnana or medha Dakshinamurthy) revealing the knowledge that liberates; and as the master of rhetoric expounding the scriptures (vyakyana-Dakshinamurthi).

Of the four forms, the latter two are more frequently represented. The combinations of two or more aspects are also not rare.

5. Veena-dhara

  5.1. The vinadhara or veena-dhara or Gaana Dakdhinamurthi in extremely handsome   form  is depicted in two variations; in sitting (aasana) posture and in standing (sthanaka) posture. There are many bronze images of Vinadhara in the Chola period but sculptural representations and stone images were not many during the early Pallava period. But, in the later periods it seems to have captured the imagination of poets and saint-singers.

The images in the standing posture generally belong to the early Pallava period. The saint poet Appar , a contemporary of the Pallava king Mahendravarman I (600 – 630 CE) , sang “He (Shiva) stands wearing the sweet smelling vibhuthi; holding a veena”. Similarly, Sundarar (8th century) , the last of the Shaiva Nayanmars , describes Shiva “with matted hair hanging down, wearing yajnopavitha he holds a veena in which he is proficient”.

The images in sitting posture appear to be later variations.  In the sitting (aasana) posture, the youthful, charming figure of Sri Dakshinamurthy with broad shoulders and tapering torso, is sitting with the left leg drawn up and resting on the seat in utkutika posture. His upper body is slightly slanting towards the left, balancing the veena held gracefully across his chest. The lower-left hand supports the instrument and is facing upward (vama hastam katakam urdhva vaktram )   while the lower-right hand is tenderly placed on the frets as if plucking the strings (katakam dakshina hastam adhomukham ). The hand gestures (mudra) are half-open, slanting and tending to extend gracefully (kataka mudra). At times, he is shown holding in his upper hands a deer and an axe. (Amsumadbheda and Karanagama). The gaze of the god is settled on the instrument ; and he appears absorbed in music .The rest of the features are similar to that of vyakhyana-murthy. The illustrations of this variation can be seen in the7th century Pallava architecture Dharmaraja Ratha at Mamallapuram; Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram and in Shiva temple at Tiruvaikavur near Kumbhakonam.

  Dakshinamurti veena  Kapaleeshwarar_Gopurum

5.2. In the standing posture the gestures of the image suggest as if it is holding the veena. The instrument as such may not always be depicted or in some cases it could even be missing. The Chola bronzes are the best illustrations of the sthanaka   Vinadhara –murthy (Tiruppurambiyan temple).

5.3. Shri Sivaramamurti, former Director, National Museum, New Delhi, in his work Kalugumalai and Early Pandyan Rock-cut Shrines describes two forms of Sri Dakshinamurthy, one playing the veena and the other the mridanga, sculpted on the vimana of the Murugan temple of Pandya period at Kazhugumalai near Tiirunelveli. Sri Dakshinamurthy playing on a drum (mridanga) is called Pushkara Dakshinamurthy, the Master of instruments.

6. Yoga-murthy


6.1. Sri Dakshinamurthy the supreme yogi is often depicted as Yoga-murthy (Yoga Dakshinamurthy). He is shown sitting in utkutikaasana with both the legs drawn up ( uddhrtam janvagram ) crossing each other from the root of the thigh , heels touching each other (anyonya-baddha – pashnikam )  and held in position by a band, yoga-patta, passing round the waist and the fore-legs, a little below the knee. In the classic versions of Yoga-murti , his front arms are stretched out resting freely on the knees (as in yoga Nrusimha); while the back arms hold a rosary (aksha mala) and a water pot (kamandalu). His hair is arranged as jatamandala woven into circular form and held together by a band or a snake and adorned with crescent moon and flowers. The complexion of Yoga Sri Dakshinamurthy is variously described either as fair or red or golden;  but his throat is dark in colour (nila griva ). The image is modestly ornamented; and with snakes and snake-like ornaments

[E.g. Temples of Ilambayam Kottur Dakshinamoorthy; Elimiankottur near Kadabathur; and Shiva temple at Nanjangud near Mysore].

In another form  , as described in Amsumad-bheda-agama , the right leg hangs down from the seat while the left leg is folded vertically with the foot placed on the seat and knee facing upward ( lambayed dakshinam padam , vamam utkutikasanam ) . The folded leg is held in position by a band which goes round the body ( sambaddhya yoga pattena deham , yoga pattikaya-baddhya). In this form , the left hand is stretched out resting on the left knee (parasarya vama hastam tu vama-janupari sthitham ).


There are some other variations of the Yoga Dakshinamurthy. For instance in the following from the Avur and the Tiruvengavasal (Pudukkotai) temples show Sri Dakshinamurthy in relaxed posture holding an antelope, rosary and  kamandalu (water-pot).

The text Uttara-kamika prescribes that the Yoga-murthi must be  facing south and seated on a tiger skin spread upon an auspicious  bejewelled throne ( ratha simhasane shubhe ) under a banyan tree (tan mula  dakshine chhayanishannah ratnopashobhite pithe vygra-charmottara -chhade ) . The tree must be shown resplendent with fruits , flowers and crowded by many kinds of birds.

7. Jnana (jnana or medha Dakshinamurthy)

7.1. Medha denotes intellectual brilliance, vigour and vitality. It is the faculty that refers to the brightness of the mind (Buddhi prakasham); the radiance (prabha) of understanding (medha) and wisdom (prajna); as also the power of learning (vidvath shakthi) and the consummate skill in use of language (vak patuhvam). Sri Medha Dakshinamurthy is worshiped as the luminous teacher who ignites intelligence (dhi), memory (smruthi), steadfastness (dhruthi) and in general the intellectual ability and acumen. These virtues are of great merit; and equip the aspirant with the skill and capability to deal with and to gain insight into the world of existence perceived by the senses.

7.2. Jnana in this context refers to para-vidya the higher knowledge as compared to apara –vidya the lower knowledge of scriptures including the Vedas. It is not an activity of the senses or of the intellect (buddhi); but is total perception (drishti or darshana) of all reality. It is the sort of knowledge that leads to the understanding of the problems of being and becoming; to cross over all sorrows (shokasya param trayathi); and to realize one’s true identity (atma-vidya). It is a knowledge that liberates. It is the content-less intuitional understanding and experience. It is explained; it is called jnana or knowledge merely because there is no term to describe the absence of subject-object, knower – knowing distinctions. It is the immediate and non – indirect perception (sakshat aparoksha), self-luminous consciousness (sva praksha). The expression jnana in the context of Sri Dakshinamurthy is therefore more suggestive than denotative.

7.3. The representations of Medha and Jnana aspects of Sri Dakshinamurthy have got mixed up. In either case he is characterized by the jnana –mudra and chin-mudra (described earlier), as also by the scriptures or the Kusha grass he holds. His other ayudhas such as the rosary (akshamala) with a snake  and Agni the torch of illumination; as also his firmly stamping on the apasmarapurusha symbol of ignorance and delusion, amplify his main attributes. In these depictions, his face is serene, tranquil and smiling.  He is portrayed as embodiment of bliss, immersed in deep meditation with his eyes half-closed (ardha nimila-aksha). Yet, there is eloquence in his being; and there is purity around him. The Medha – Jnana Sri Dakshinamurthy is composed of bliss, intelligence and existence.

 (Sri Dakshinamurthy at Karuvili temple; sent by Ms.Ushasuryamani)

7.4. There are number of shrines of Medha Sri Dakshinamurthy; too many to be listed here. Just to mention a few, the better known shrines are located in: temples of Sri Arunachaleshwara, Tiruvannamalai; Sri Kaalahasteeswara, Sri Kaalahasti; and Srikanteshwara temple, Nanjangudu.

8. Vyakhyana-murti

8.1. Sri Dakshinamurthy  as Vyakhyana murti or Dharma – vyakhyana – murti  the teacher of Brahma-vidya is  sitting in absolute comfort (Sukhaseena) fully relaxed assuming veerasana is expounding, interpreting the scriptures. He is sitting on a throne (vyakhya pithe nishannam ) or on white-lotus-seat (sitambuja stham ) or  on a circular padmasana (or kamalasana) the symbol of the sacred syllable OM.  The shade of the banyan tree under which he is sitting is interpreted as Maya, illusion. And the bull standing nearby is Dharma, the eternal law.

His right leg is hanging below the seat (lambaka padam) while the left one bent at the knee is placed across over the right thigh (sayanam padakam or kunchita-paada). His right foot may or may not rest on the back of the apasmarapurusha. He is depicted with three eyes and four arms. The mass of his hair may be let loose hanging around his ears (jatabhara) or held together by an ornate band (lalata patta). The kesha-vinyasa, the hair-do, is adorned with flowers, crescent moon, a snake and small tinkling bells.

His expression is benign and compassionate. Unlike as in his Jnana version, Sri Dakshinamurthy is not immersed in meditation; here, he is in wakeful (jagrat) state with his eyes fully open. His left hand in varada-mudra also holds a text of the scriptures; and his right hand gesticulates, in vyakhyana-mudra, as if he is speaking, explaining, teaching or imparting a discourse. The thumb and the index finger of his right hand are joined while the three other fingers are pointed upward; and the palm is facing the viewer. His upper right hand holds the aksha-mala (representing tattvas) while his upper left hand holds Agni (torch of fire) or sarpa (snake) or a lotus or nilothphala flower. The great teacher is surrounded by Rishis sitting at his feet, eager to learn. The Dharma Vyakhyana-murti is the supreme teacher, the Guru incarnate; most auspicious and readily accessible to eager aspiring learners.

Most of the temples in South India depict combinations of Vyakhyana-murti and Medha Dakshinamurthy.

9. Other variations

9.1. As mentioned earlier, the forms and representations of Sri Dakshinamurthy image are immensely diversified ; there are various forms ; many in number.  Kashyapa Shilpa (76.5) mentions a variety with eight hands (ashta-hastham-athapi va ).  But, most are, in effect, combinations of any of the four main aspects discussed above. Some of those variations are fairly well known; while many others are rather obscure or specialized forms. Let’s briefly see some of them.

Sri Vidya – Dakshinamurthy

9.2. Sri Dakshinamurthy is a revered seer of the kadi (samaya) matha school of Sri Vidya tradition. Samaya is centred on knowledge (jnana) which is the realization of the identity of Shiva and Shakthi: Shiva becomes Kameshwara and Kameshwari becomes Shiva. Their names too get intertwined. For instance,  Shiva and Shivaa; Tripura and Tripuraa; Bhava and Bhavani; Shambu and Shambhavi; Rudra and Rudrani ; and Sundara and Sundari etc. Therefore, Sri Dakshinamurthy, in this tradition, is worshipped as a combination of Shiva and Shakthi. Nama number 725 of Sri Lalitha Sahasaranama describes Sri Lalitha Parameshwari as Sri Daksinamurti-rupini.


Sri Dakshinamurthy, here, is depicted as a Master of Tantra. He has a very heavy jata-bhara, dishevelled and flowing down his shoulders, almost covering the ears. A patra-kundala is worn in the left ear, while there is none on the right. Snakes symbols of Tantra are prominently displayed: coiled loosely around the thighs, with its hooded head on the right; and in the jata-bhara; as also coiled on the damaru drum.

Ardhanari – Dakshinamurthy

9.3. It is explained; the term Dakshina literally means a woman and refers to the feminine principle, which can create, unfold and manifest. When Dakshina assumes a form, it results in Dakshinamurthi, an androgynous, variety of Shiva’s form. Sri Dakshinamurthi, as ardha-nari, as Kameshwara and Kameshwari is regarded the principle deity of the Kadi School. The ardha-nari depictions can be seen in some temples; for instance, in the Sivanandeswarar temple in Thirupanthurai, (Tanjore) and in the Thirupulivanam, temple near Chennai

Rishabharudha Dakshinamurthy

9.4. The form of Sri Dakshinamurthy either riding the bull (vrishabha) or standing beside the bull leaning against it with his right elbow placed on the bull’s head or neck is quite popular. Sri Dakshinamurthy with four arms a nd three eyes, looks peaceful and pleased (prasanna). His hair is tied up in the shape of a tall crown (baddha-veni-kirita). There are number of temples depicting Sri Dakshinamurthy in this aspect ; for instance: in the Vathanyewara (Vallalar) temple, Sri Dakshinamurthy is seated on Nandi; and in Tirunallavanur temple, Sri Dakshinamurthy is portrayed in a standing posture, holding scriptures in the left hand while his right elbow is resting on the Nandi.


Lagudi or Lakuti Dakshinamurthy

A form of Sri Dakshinamurthy holding a cudgel (lagudi or lakuti )  is Lakuti Dakshinamurthy . He is described as of golden complexion , seated under  a Nigrodha tree in  virasana ; decorated by eight serpents (ashta bhogi vilasad bhushanam ) ; clothed in tiger skin (vyaghra tvak pata ) ; and , holding a cludgel (lagudi or latuki ). He is surrounded by sages waiting on him .

Samba Dakshinamurthy 

Samba Dakshinamurthy is an unusual form seated alongside  Parvathi who is dark in complexion (shyama) , holding a blue lotus (utpala) and lovingly embracing Dakshinamurthy (vamaropari sthitham giri-sutam anyonya-alinganam ) . Samba Dakshinamurthy is described as holding a book in the hand that embraces Parvathi ; and in the other two hands he holds a pot filled with nectar ( kumbham sudha puritam) , a rosary made of pearls (makthakshamala) , while the other hand gestures wisdom (mudram jnana mayim). This form with Parvathi is most unusual because Sri Dakshinamurthy is invariably depicted as kevala murthi.

10. Some more variations

10.1. A variety of other depictions are sporadically mentioned. But the iconographic features of these variations are unclear. These forms are perhaps worshipped for specific purposes ; say for attaining health, wealth or knowledge. The following are some of such forms:

Samhara Dakshinamurthy (vyakhyam samhara samjnam ) ;  Lakshmi Dakshinamurthy ; Veera Dakshinamurthy ; Sakti Dakshinamurthy ; Kala Dakshinamurthy Apasmara Nivartaka Dakshinamurthy ; Mula Dakshinamurthy; Shudder Dakshinamurthy ; Vaagisha Dakshinamurthy ; Hamsa Dakshinamurthy; Chidambaram Dakshinamurthy ; Vira Vijaya Dakshinamurthy; Kirthi Dakshinamurthy; Brahma Dakshinamurthy ; Sakthi Dakshinamurthy; Siddha Dakshinamurthy ; Srividya Dakshinamurthy etc.

There is also a hideous form of Dakshinamutthy . I could not however secure its authentic scriptural reference(Can anyone help?)


Sri Dakshinamurthy as Linga

10.2. Sri Dakshinamurthy is also represented and worshipped in the Linga form. For instance, the Mahakal Jyotirlinga, cream in color and facing South, in the ancient temple of Mahakaleshwar at Ujjain (Avanthika) is revered as Sri Dakshinamurthy.In Sri Pashupatinatha Temple at Kathmandu, the South face of Shiva Linga is regarded as his anugraha (grace) or jnana aspect and worshipped as Sri Dakshinamurthy. Similarly, the Linga in the five hundred year old cave temple of Sri Gavi Gangadhareswara t in Bangalore is considered Dakshinamurthi swarupam .And, in the Vaikom Mahadeva temple in kerala and in the Alangudi (Kumbakonam) too, the deity enshrined in the form of Shiva Linga is worshipped as Sri Dakshinamurthy.

10.3. Sri Dakshinamurthy is also represented in the form of saligrama. The Dakshina-murti-salagrama has the shape of a conch, but is black in color.

10.4. Sri Dakshinamurthy Yantra


Sri Dakshinamurthy Yantra eight petalled lotus, on the portal of which are visualized Brahma, Sarasvathi, Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanathkumara, Shuka, Vyasa and Ganapathi. Sri Dakshinamurthy, in this form, is the originator of the world (jagatam adya) and represents the absolute principle (avyaya). Dakshinamurthy upasana forms an important aspect in Sri Vidya tradition. Here; he is the Adi Guru of  its  Samaya School  .

Upasana of the Dakshinamurthy involves purva-anga and uttara-anga mantras.

Purva-anga mantra addressed to  : Guru, Ganapati, Durga, Kshetrapala, Saraswathi .:

Guruuganapatirdurga kshetrapalah saraswathi
Etah sridakshinamurtheh purvamantradhidevataah

Uttara-anga mantra  addressed to  : Bala, Devi Shadakshari, Svarna Akarshana Bhairava and  Mrita Sanjivani :

Balashadakshari devyah svarnaakarshana bhairavah
Mritasanjivani chaiva mahamrityunjah tatah
Ete panchamahamantra uttaranga mahesatum

The slokas for worship of  the yantra are

Om Namo Bhagavathe Dakshinaamoorthaye|
Mahyam Medhaam Pragnyaam Prayachas Swaha||

Gurave Sarva LokaaNaam Bishaje BavaRogiNaam|
Nidhaye Sarva Vidhyaanaam Dakshinaa Moorthaye Namaha||

Vrushabath Vajaaya VidhMahe Kruni Hastaaya DheeMahee-
Thanno Guru: Prachodayaath||

ApraMeyathva ya theedha Nirmala Nyaana Moorthaye|
Manogi raam Vidhooraaya Dakshinaa Moorthaye Namaha||


11. Temples

11.1. As it has been pointed out,the temples where Dakshinamurthy is the chief deity are small in number. The Agamas mention twenty – five lila-murtis (Lila generally is playful, active) forms of Shiva. One of the more important of these is Sri Dakshinamurti. Generally, in Chola temples- both of Shiva and Vishnu- a niche in the south wall of the central shrine holds the image of Sri Dakshinamurthy. In all those temples the idol of Sri Dakshinamurthy is either carved on the wall; or placed in a niche or in a small shrine. Many temple towers too carry various versions of Sri Dakshinamurthy image.

11.2. For some reason, the processional or festival images (utsava-murti) of Sri Dakshinamurthy in bronze or alloy do not appear to be in vogue, except perhaps in the temple at Alankudi near Kumbakonam.

12. Guru Poornima

12.1. Guru Poornima the full –moon day which occurs in the month of Ashadha, marks the celebration of the Supreme Guru who taught through eloquent silence. Each year, the aspirants celebrate the day of the Adi-Guru with gratefulness, devotion and reverence.

13. Sri Dakshinamurthy and Avalokitesvara

13.1. Many scholars point out similarities in the representations of Sri Dakshinamurthy and Avalokitesvara Padmapani. There is also a view that each tradition influenced the other.

It is said; by about the fifth century, the Dakshinamurthy tradition was strongly established in the Madurai region. The Potiyil Mountains in the same region was also the cradle of the Avalokitesvara cult. The scholars have pointed out that the images of Sri Dakshinamurthy of the early Pallava period were depicted holding lotus flowers in their hands. The images carved on the walls or placed in the niche of the Sri Kailasanatha temple of Kancipuram and in the temple at Tirusalvar as also in some other temples of that period support the view. In the later period- the Chola- the lotus was replaced by Agni (fire) that illuminates; but the fire seemed to have a ‘stem’. That change might have been caused by the growing influence of the Vedic tradition in the South. The argument is that in the early period, the Dakshinamurthy iconography was influenced by the Buddhist tradition.

13.2. There is another view too. It is pointed out that the sculptures of Avalokitesvara and Dakshinamurthy- both of Pallava period and both in the region of Potiyil Mountains – are adorned with yajnopavitha and the sandal-paste mark between the eyebrows. It is said; these images in turn influenced the Avalokitesvara bronzes of Sri Lanka (8th century). It is argued, in this case, the Buddhist sculptures which were smaller in number in South India were influenced by the Hindu iconography.

[Please check the following links for more on that: ]

 13.3. Both the parties to the argument seemed to have overlooked that in the Indian context the art and idioms of art expressions were at once Hindu, Buddhist and Jain, for the style was a function of the region and of the times and not of religion. The Indian art that rendered religious themes shared a common pool of expressions and symbols.

 Let’s talk of your questions in the next part.

References and sources

Elements of Hindu iconography, vol. 2, by T. A. Gopinatha Rao

Elements of Indian Art  by SP Gupta and SP Asthana

Indian temple Traditions  by Prof SK Ramachandra Rao ]

Pictures are courtesy of internet


Posted by on October 3, 2012 in Dakshinamurthy


Tags: , , , , , , ,