Rudra is one of the most significant Vedic gods. There are a number of hymns in the Rig Veda about Rudra, and three of them are solely dedicated to him. Rudra is the supreme Warrior, the divine Fighter, the God of Power. He is terrible according to the human view: he is dynamic according to the divine view. In the popular understanding of Indian mythology, Rudra is the Storm-God or Thunder-God. It is said that he creates thunder with his arm and uses lightening bolts from the sky. He is also said to use the bow and arrow. Rudra is closely associated with the Maruts, the Divine Sons, who are also connected with the natural forces and the heavens. In Indian mythology, Rudra wears a golden necklace and is adorned with costly celestial garments. His lips are said to be beautiful, and his hair is always braided.
Rudra is the lord of terror, but, at the same time, he is the Lord of Compassion. We can also say that Rudra is Shivam Shantam. Shantam is the Lord of Peace, the Lord who embodies Peace, and Shivam is the god who embodies the auspicious qualities. According to tradition, this god, Rudra, has no time to spend with the dead. He deals only with the living, the striving, the aspiring. As Christ said of his Father, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living,” so, too, this is Rudra.
Human desire makes us feel that ignorance is our lot. Divine aspiration makes us feel that God-realisation is our birthright. Human ignorance is within us and without. With his dynamic, divine energy it is Rudra who frees us from this ignorance and inwardly compels us to march towards the Light, the Light of the Beyond. He does this more powerfully, perhaps, than any of the other gods. He can work in and through us most convincingly when we bring our own heart-elevating and soul-illumining emotions to the fore.
When we invoke the cosmic gods, it happens that sometimes insincerity looms large in our prayer. To some extent the cosmic gods are indulgent of our imperfections. But this particular god, Rudra, is never, never indulgent of human weakness. When an insincere seeker makes others feel that he is a true seeker, Rudra destroys his insincerity. Again, if somebody is sincere in his spiritual life but shows false modesty by claiming that he does not practise spirituality, at that time Rudra comes and destroys that person’s false modesty with a divine jolt or inner blow. Many people worship God in order to achieve something, in order to fulfil their aspiration. They pray to God for Peace or Joy or Power. But people in India who know Rudra’s tremendous power pray to him not to hurt them or destroy them. Earthbound people feel that when Rudra is invoked, the moment his divine force touches their petty human weaknesses they will be destroyed. Actually, Rudra enters into our aspiring hearts with his dynamic valour not to destroy us but to transform our ignorance. Whenever there is aspiring energy, Rudra is present to offer his indomitable strength to his human devotees.
Rudra marshals the human race to march toward its divine perfection. It is Rudra’s divine necessity that impels him to do this work.
You all know that India has been a victim to the caste system. The caste system was begun with great purity and simplicity in the Vedic age. As it was handed down through the ages, it became more and more undivine and unjust until today it is only a pathetic mockery of its original glory and truth. We learn about the original caste divisions in the Rig Veda. The Brahmin is from the highest caste; he is the priest and scholar and is conversant with Vedic philosophy. The Kshatriya is the warrior. He has indomitable princely qualities. The word ‘Kshatriya’ was not mentioned in the Vedas; rather the word ‘Rajanya’ was used, meaning the prince with kingly qualities. The Vaishya is the merchant and trader, while the Sudra is the labourer and the servitor. Agni, the Fire-God, is from the Brahmin caste, Indra and Varuna are Kshatriya gods. Rudra and the Maruts are Vaishya gods and Pushan is a Sudra god.
The caste system has its advantages, but through its abuse, India has created a deplorable situation for herself. According to my own inner understanding, the caste system should be considered a boon from a certain point of view. Each caste can be seen as a part of the body of society. In our physical body, each limb has a specific function, a unique capacity of its own. Similarly, each limb of the body of society has a special role. The Brahmin has spiritual and mental development; he is the teacher of the family. The Kshatriya is the protector and the administrator of justice in the family. The Vaishya will look after the financial and material needs of the family. And finally, the Sudra will serve the family. If the four brothers work jointly, then there will be abundant peace, joy and harmony in the family. But if they are at daggers drawn, naturally there will be endless quarrels and misunderstandings. If the eldest brother feels that it is beneath his dignity to waste his time talking to his Sudra brother who is ignorant of Vedic knowledge, then the harmony will be destroyed. If the Kshatriya brother asks himself why he should offer his capacity and valour for his Brahmin brother who perhaps may be living a secluded life in the forest, then naturally he will go his own way and dissension will result.
On the spiritual plane, these four divisions signify the various planes of spiritual capacity, the inner rungs of spiritual height. These spiritual planes correspond in their own way with the levels of human capacity called, on our earthly plane, castes. Not all the gods are equally great or high. The gods also have their relative positions in the divine hierarchy. Each deity has his own permanent place. But needless to say, a cosmic god, even if he is of the Sudra class, is infinitely higher than a Brahmin human being.
In the Rig Veda, we have a significant hymn which mentions that the Mouth of God is the Brahmin-or, let us say, that the Brahmin has come directly from the Mouth of God. The same hymn says that the Kshatriya comes from the Arms of God, the Vaishya comes from the Thigh and the Sudra comes from the Feet.
We all know the significant Gayatri Mantra. But I wish to say there is another Gayatri Mantra: the Rudra Gayatri. It is not as important as the real Gayatri, which is offered to the Sun-God, but it is still very significant. It runs thus: “We meditate on Rudra to give us the supreme Knowledge. We meditate on Rudra to energise our life and to stimulate our mind.” This is the prayer that we offer to Rudra. He who wants to be a chosen instrument of God must cry for Rudra, for it is he who will free. us from imperfection, bondage and limitation.
The world is for the brave; and those who are brave are already chosen by the divine aspect of Rudra. Spirituality in its purest sense is the acceptance of life. If we want to transform the world, first we have to accept it. When we face the world, what we see initially is imperfection, and our immediate reaction is a feeling of despondency. But the real divine warrior feels that he is indomitable-a perfect match for the darkness of the world-for he knows that Rudra is constantly inspiring him and aspiring in him and for him.
Rudra does not want even an iota of an undivine force to remain within us. Compassion he has in boundless measure, but his compassion he uses only in the form of Light. Where there is Light, Compassion reigns. Again, where there is Compassion, there also is Light. Rudra’s Compassion is the Compassion of oneness. Rudra feels that if he is perfect, then his human children must also become perfect. He feels that we can all be perfect, for in our soul’s nature we are already perfect.
We are all seekers of the infinite Truth. We have to adore Rudra, the indomitable, not out of teeming fear or excruciating pain, but out of love, out of selfless devotion and surrender. Rudra wants to establish the Kingdom of Truth and Perfection here on earth. He strives to establish the Kingdom of Truth in a world of falsehood, the Kingdom of Perfection in a world of imperfection.
(Courtesy Dance of Cosmic gods)
On Rudra from the Scriptures
Siva is the third person of the Hindu Triad. As Brahmā was Creator, Vishnu Preserver, in order to
complete the system, as all things are subject to decay, a Destroyer was necessary; and destruction is regarded as the peculiar work of Siva. This seems scarcely in harmony with the form by which he is usually represented. It must be remembered, however, that, according to the teaching of Hinduism, death is not death in the sense of passing into non-existence, but simply a change into a new form of life. He who destroys, therefore, causes beings to assume new phases of existence—the Destroyer is really a re-Creator; hence the name Siva, the Bright or Happy One, is given to him, which would not have been the case had he been regarded as the destroyer in the ordinary meaning of that term.
In the later Hinduism, as taught in the Epics and Purānas, Siva plays a most important part, several books having been written for the purpose of celebrating his praise; yet his name as that of a god does not occur in the Vedas. In order, therefore, to gain greater reverence for him amongst men, he is declared to be the Rudra of the Vedras. In some passages in the Vedras, Rudra is identified with Agni; yet “the distinctive epithets applied to him in the Rig-Veda appear sufficiently to prove that he was generally discriminated from Agni by his early worshippers.” *
Between the texts from the Brāhmanas relative to Rudra, and the earliest descriptions of the same deity which we discover in the Epic poems, a wide chasm intervenes, which, as far as I am aware, no genuine ancient materials exist for bridging over. The Rudra of the Mahābhārata is not indeed very different in his general character from the god of the same name who is portrayed in the Satarudriya, but in the later literature his importance is immensely increased, his attributes are
more clearly defined, and the conceptions entertained of his person are rendered more distinct by the addition of various additional features and illustrated by numerous legends. Instead of remaining a subordinate deity, as he was in the Vedic Age, Rudra has thrown Agni, Vāyu, Surya, Mitra, and Varuna completely into the shade; and although Indra still occupies a prominent place in the Epic legends, he bas sunk down into a subordinate position, and is quite unable to compete in power and dignity with Rudra, who, together with Vishnu, now engrosses the almost exclusive worship of the Brāhmanical world.” *
In the following texts from the Vedas, † referring to Rudra, will be seen the germs of some of the legends found in the later books concerning Siva:—”What can we utter to Rudra, the intelligent, the strong, the most bountiful, which shall be most pleasant to his heart, that so Aditi may bring Rudra’s healing to our cattle, and men, and kine, and children? We seek from Rudra, the lord of songs, the lord of sacrifices, who possesses healing remedies, his auspicious favour; from him who is brilliant as the sun, who shines like gold, who is the best and most bountiful of the gods.” “We invoke with obeisance the ruddy boar of the sky, with spirally braided hair, a brilliant form.” “Far be from us thy cow-slaying and man-slaying weapon.” In the same hymn Rudra is called the father of the Maruts or Storm-gods; to explain which the commentator introduces a legend of a later date which is found in the account of the Maruts. ‡ In another hymn Rudra is thus addressed: “Thou fitly holdest arrows and a bow; fitly thou [wearest] a glorious necklace of every form [of beauty].”
[paragraph continues] The name Siva may have been connected with Rudra from a verse in the Vajasaneyi recension of the white “Yajur Veda,” wherein Rudra is thus addressed: “Thou art gracious (Siva) by name.” * Other epithets, which are afterwards extended into legends, are seen in a prayer in the same Veda: “Shine upon us, dweller in the mountain, with that blessed body of thine which is auspicious.” † ” May he who glides away, blue-necked and red-coloured, be gracious unto us.” “Reverence to the blue-necked, to the thousand-eyed, to the bountiful, and to the lord of spirits, and to the lord of thieves.”
In the following account of Rudra’s birth, he is identified with Agni:—”The lord of beings was a householder, and Ushas (The Dawn) was his wife. A boy was born (to them) in a year. The boy wept. Prajāpati said to him, ‘Boy, why dost thou weep, since thou hast been born after toil and austerity?” The boy said, ‘My evil has not been taken away, and a name has not been given to me. Give me a name.’ Prajāpati said, ‘Thou art Rudra.’ Inasmuch as he gave him that name, Agni became his form, for Rudra is Agni. He was Rudra because he wept (from rud, to weep).” ‡ This account of the birth of Rudra agrees with that of the Vishnu and Mārkandeya Purānas, and to some extent with that of others.
It is impossible to give a connected account of the life of this deity. His career was not clearly defined like an Avatāra of Vishnu, of which we have a history of his birth, life, and death. Though he often appeared on earth in human form, and frequently dwelt at his favourite city, Benares, his heavenly home was at Kailāsa on the Himalayas. All that can be done is to
give a few out of the many legends found in the sacred books in which his character and works are described. From these we may learn something of the idea of the age in which they were written respecting Siva.
Rudra, according to the Rāmāyana, married Umā, the daughter of Daksha, who reappears in various stages of the life of Siva as Pārvati, Durgā, Kāli, etc. Fearing that the children of such parents would be dangerous to live with, the gods entreated Siva and Umā to live a life of chastity: to this they consented. The request, however, came too late to prevent the birth of Kartikeya. Umā declared that the wives of the other gods should also be childless. Rudra took a prominent position at the churning of the ocean; he drank the poison, as nectar, that was produced before the amrita, which caused his neck to become dark-coloured—hence one of his names is Nilkanta, “the blue-necked.”
As Umā was sitting with her husband in their home on Mount Kailasa, seeing the gods driving by in their chariots, she was told that they were proceeding, at her father’s invitation, to take part in a great sacrifice he was about to make. As Siva had offended him, Daksha had not invited him. The “Bhāgavata Purāna” * gives the cause of this slight upon Siva: “On one occasion the gods and Rishis were assembled at a sacrifice celebrated by the Prajāpatis. On Daksha’s entrance, all rose to salute him excepting his father Brahmā and Mahādeva (Siva). Daksha, after making his obeisance to Brahmā, sat down by his command, but was offended at the treatment he received from Siva. Seeing him previously seated, Daksha did not brook this want of respect; but looking at him obliquely with his eyes, as if consuming him, thus spake: ‘Hear me, ye Brāhman
[paragraph continues] Rishis, with the gods and the Agnis, while I, neither from ignorance nor passion, describe what is the practice of virtuous persons. But this shameless being (Siva) detracts from the reputation of the guardians of the world—he by whom, stubborn as he is, the course pursued by the good is transgressed. He assumed the position of my disciple, inasmuch as, like a virtuous person, in the face of Brāhmans and of fire, he took the hand of my daughter who resembled Savitri. This monkey-eyed [god], after having taken the hand of [my] fawn-eyed [daughter], has not even by word shown suitable respect to me, whom he ought to have risen and saluted. Though unwilling, I yet gave my daughter to this impure and proud abolisher of rites and demolisher of barriers, like the word of a Veda to a Sudra. He roams about in dreadful cemeteries, attended by hosts of ghosts and sprites, like a madman, naked, with dishevelled hair, wearing a garland of dead men’s [skulls] and ornaments of human bones, pretending to be Siva (auspicious), but in reality Asiva (inauspicious), insane, beloved by the insane, the lord of Bhutas (spirits), beings whose nature is essentially darkness. To this wicked-hearted lord of the infuriate, whose purity has perished, I have, alas! given my virtuous daughter, at the instigation of Brahmā.’ Having thus reviled Siva, who did not oppose him, Daksha, having touched water, incensed, began to curse him: ‘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.’
“Daksha then left the assembly. After his departure a follower of Mahādeva pronounced a curse upon him, and the Brāhmans who sympathized with him: ‘Let Daksha, brutal, be excessively devoted to women, and
have speedily the head of a goat. Let this stupid being continue to exist in this world in ceremonial ignorance!’ Upon this, Bhrigu (a brother of Daksha, and a Rishi) launched a counter-curse upon the followers of Siva: ‘Let those who practise the rites of Bhava be heretics and opponents of the true scriptures. Having lost their purity, deluded in understanding, wearing matted hair and ashes and bones, let them undergo the initiation of Siva, in which spirituous liquors are the deity.’ Hearing this imprecation, Siva and his followers left the assembly, while Daksha and the other Prajāpatis * celebrated for a thousand years the sacrifice in which Vishnu was the object of veneration.”
The enmity thus commenced between Siva and Daksha continued; and in consequence, at the great sacrifice made when his father-in-law was appointed chief of the Prajāpatis, Siva was not invited. Umā was greatly grieved, as her husband told her, “The former practice of the gods has been that in all sacrifices no portion should be divided to me. By custom, established by the earliest arrangement, the gods lawfully allot me no share in the sacrifice.” According to the Mahābhārata, he then sets off for the assembly and with his attendants puts an end to the sacrifice, which, taking the form of a deer, is followed by Siva into the sky. A drop of perspiration falls from his forehead, from which a fire proceeds, out of which issues a dreadful being Jvara (Fever), which burns up the other things prepared for the sacrifice, and even puts to flight the gods. Brahmā, now appears to Siva, promises that the gods shall henceforth give him a share in the sacrifices, and proposes that Jvara shall be allowed to range over the earth.
The Bhāgavata * gives a more lengthy and somewhat different account of the termination of Daksha’s ceremony. Sati (Umā) was most anxious to attend it. Though her husband tries to dissuade her, she “disregards his warning and goes; but, being slighted by her father, reproaches him for his hostility to her husband, and threatens to abandon her corporeal frame by which she was connected with her parent. She then voluntarily gives up the ghost. Seeing this, Siva’s attendants, who had followed, rush on Daksha to slay him.” This, however, is prevented, and Siva’s followers are put to flight. When Siva heard of his wife’s death, he was greatly angered, and “from a lock of his hair a gigantic demon arose (named Virabhadra), whom he commanded to destroy Daksha and his sacrifice.” This was accomplished. He plucked out Bhrigu’s beard, tore out Bhaga’s eyes, knocked out Pushan’s teeth, and cut off Daksha’s head. In their distress, the gods are advised to propitiate Siva. For this purpose they resort to Kailāsa, where they see Siva “carrying the linga desired by devotees, ashes, a staff, a tuft of hair, an antelope’s skin, and a digit of the moon, his body shining like an evening cloud.” Siva in part relents, and allows Daksha to have a goat’s head: the sacrifice is completed, and Vishnu gives an address in which he shows that he is the supreme deity, and that the troubles of his worshippers arise from imagining themselves to be different from him. Daksha himself worships Siva, and Umā, who had voluntarily given up herself to the flames, and thus become a Sati, †
was re-born as Pārvati, being then the daughter of Himavat, the god of the Himālayas and Menā.
Siva adopted the garb, and lived the life of an ascetic. Though generally worshipped under the form of the linga, he “is represented in human form, living in the Himālayas along with Pārvati, sometimes in the act of trampling on or destroying demons, wearing round his black neck a serpent, and a necklace of skulls, and furnished with a whole apparatus of external emblems, such as a white bull on which he rides, a trident, tiger’s skin, elephant’s skin, rattle, noose, etc. He has three eyes, one being in his forehead, in allusion either to the three Vedas, or time past, present and future. He has a crescent on his forehead, the moon having been given to him as his share of the products of the churning of the ocean. Again, Mahādeva, or the great deity Siva, is sometimes connected with humanity in another personification very different from that just noted, viz. that of an austere ascetic, with matted hair, living in a forest and teaching men by his own example, first, the power to be obtained by penance (tapas), mortification of the body and suppression of the passions; and, secondly, the great virtue of abstract meditation, as leading to the loftiest spiritual knowledge, and ultimately to union, or actual identification with the great spirit of the universe.” *
The following legend from the “Vāmana Purāna,” † describes the ordinary life of Siva as an ascetic. Devi (Pārvati), oppressed with violent heat, thus addressed her lord: “O Isha! the heat increases in violence; hast thou no house to which we might repair, and there abide, protected from the wind, the heat, the cold?”
[paragraph continues] Sankara replied: “I am, O lovely one, without a shelter, a constant wanderer in forests.” Having thus spoken, Sankara with Sati remained during the hot season under the shade of trees, and when it was passed, the rainy season with its dark clouds succeeded. On beholding which, Sati said to Siva, “Heart-agitating winds do blow, O Maheshwara, and rushing torrents roar; let me entreat thee to build a house on Kailāsa, where I may abide with thee in comfort.” Siva replied, “O my beloved, I have no riches for the erection of a house, nor am I possessor of aught else than an elephant’s skin for a garment, and serpents for my ornaments.” The soul of Siva, having heard these harsh words, seemingly true, but devoid of truth, was alarmed, and looking on the ground with bashfulness and anger said, “Then say, O Sambhu, how can we pass in comfort the rainy season under the shade of trees?” Siva replied, “With our bodies covered with a cloud, O lovely one, shall the rainy season pass without any rain falling on thy tender frame.” Having thus spoken, Siva stopped a cloud, and with the daughter of Daksha, fixed his abode within it, and hence has he since been celebrated in heaven under the name of Jimula-Kitu (he whose banner is a cloud). When the rains were over, they took up their abode in Mount Mandara.
The home life of Siva and his spouse does not appear to have been of the happiest. As they could each bestow gifts upon their worshippers, it sometimes happened that the one wanted to bless those whom the other wished to curse. In the Rāmāyana and Mahābhārata * is an account of a dispute between them in connection with the struggle between Rāma and Rāvana. In the earlier part of the contest, Rāma being unable
to overthrow his enemy because of the assistance afforded him by Siva, the gods whom Rāvana had oppressed went, with Rāma at their head, to ask him to withdraw his help. Siva consented to accompany them on the seventh day of the conflict to witness the destruction of their foe. Durgā (Pārvati) severely reproached her husband, asking how he could witness the destruction of his own worshipper, a worshipper who had stood praying to him in the most sultry weather surrounded by four fires; who had continued his devotions in the chilling cold, standing in water; and had persevered in his applications, standing on his head, amid torrents of rain. She then poured forth a torrent of abuse, calling him a withered old man, who smoked intoxicating herbs, lived in cemeteries and covered himself with ashes, and asked if he thought she would accompany him on such an errand. Siva now gets angry, and reminds his wife that she was only a woman and therefore could know nothing; and further that she does not act like a woman, because she too wandered about from place to place, engaged in war, was a drunkard, spent her time in the company of degraded beings, killed giants, drank their blood and hung their skulls around her neck. Durgā became so enraged at these reproaches, that the gods were frightened. They entreated Rāma to join them in supplication to her, or Rāvana would never be destroyed. He did so; she then became propitious and consented to the destruction of the demon. Durgā is represented in the Sivopākhyana as being exceedingly jealous because her husband, in his begging excursions, visited the quarters of the town inhabited by women of ill-fame, and in the Rāmāyana is an account of a terrible quarrel between them because Parasurāma beat her sons Kartikeya and Ganesa.
In the “Vāmana Purāna” * is a legend explaining why Siva adopted the dress and habits of a religious mendicant. Formerly, when all things had been destroyed, and naught remained but one vast ocean, that lord who is incomprehensible (Brahmā) reposed in slumber for a thousand years. When the night had passed, desirous of creating the three worlds, the skilled in the Vedas, investing himself with the quality of impurity, assumed a corporeal form with five heads (Brahmā). Then also was produced from the quality of darkness another form with three eyes, and twisted locks, and bearing a rosary and a trident. Brahmā next created Ahankara (consciousness of individual existence), which immediately pervaded the nature of both gods; and under its influence Rudra said to Brahmā, “Say, O lord? how earnest thou hither, and by whom wert thou created?” Brahmā asks in return, “And where have you come from?” The result is a terrible quarrel, in which Siva, inflamed with anger, cut off the fifth head of Brahmā, which had uttered the boastful words. But when Siva tried to throw the head to the ground it would not fall, but remained in his hand. Brahmā then created a giant to slay Siva in his weakened state, which was caused by the sin of injuring Brahmā, the father of Brāhmans. To escape from him Siva fled to Benares. The peculiar sanctity of Benares arises from the fact that it was there Siva became absolved from his great sin, and was freed from the dissevered head of Brahmā, which, as a penance, he was doomed to carry with him wherever he went. It was his attempts to get free from the sin of Brāhmanicide that made Siva a wandering mendicant.
Exerpt of Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic, by W.J. Wilkins, [1900)