How many Rudras?

Mahadeva Vishwaroopam, 5th Century, Icon found in Mumbai, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. Indian Archeological Survey: AKS.9955, CC BY-SA 4.0

He whose name is unknown and whose name is not uttered AB3.34 and He who is unknown to the Devas after they ascended to the heavenly realm and noticed an entity with Sun-like luster (adityavarnam) walking around KA2.100sqq. Rudra is not a name, nor a title, Rudra is an acclamation and a collective noun, as He can be anything and everything. One cannot single out Rudra as a unipolar personality nor can one iconify him, hence there is no count to Rudras, but wait how can that be?

It was Brhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad which was famously quoted by many to fix the number of Rudras as 11. However, this Upaniṣhad actually describes 33 Types/Aspects of Divinities and among them, 11 types are of Rudra. So let’s go back to the source in the Vedic Saṃhitās and examine the diversity in counting Rudras during the Yajñá and other karmic activities. For example:

  1.  Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda Taittirīya Saṃhitā 1.4.11 states “three and thirty in troops and eleven are seated on waters”. 3 and 30 make 33, and among them, 11 are on water pots called Kalaśas, used during Yajñá. This is very similar to Brhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad.
  2. When the Vedic metre is consideredRudras are associated with Triṣṭubh Metre which has 11 syllables multiplied by 4 steps, hence Śrī Rudram of the Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda describes 11 homages to Rudra. The famous opening hymn lists 11 titles, they are: viśveśva̱rayā, mahādevāya, tryaṁbakāya, tripurāntakāya, trikalāgni-kālāya, kālāgnirudrāya, nīlakaṇṭhāya, mrutyuṁjayāya, sarveśvarāya, sadāśivāya, śrīman-mahādevāya .Similarly, Śatarudriya, meaning 100 Rudra hymns of the Sukla Yajur Veda mentions 6 Rudras constructed using the same Triṣṭubh Metre. The same Śatarudriya 16.54 states that Rudra manifests in all and so there are innumerable thousands of Rudras.
  3. Taittirīya Saṃhitā 4.5 talks about 1000 Rudras covering the Earth with 100 bows and 100 arrows.
  4. Yoga/Ramayana of Ṛṣi Vaśiṣṭha describes 100 Rudras yet says Rudras expand infinitely.
  5. Mahābhārata Itihāsam in its Drona Parva-Nārāyaṇastra-Mokshana Parva 203 says “Infinite Rudras”.
  6. In terms of creation being unfolded both Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa and Kausitaki Brāhmaṇa talk about 8 expansions, they are Bhava, Śarva, Paśūpati, Ugra, Mahādeva, Rudra, īśhana, and Aśani.
  7. When offering sacrifice to different regions during Yajñá, Atharva Veda 15.5 talks about 7 manifestations one for each intermediator/intermediate space in different directions – Bhāva to the Eastern, Śarvā to Southern, Paśūpati to the Western, Ugra/Aghora to Northern, Rudra towards nadir or below regions, Mahādeva to the upper regions of the sky/zenith and īśhana towards all directions.
  8. When associated with the human body, especially performed during Aṅganyāsa (अङ्गन्यास) its 6 Rudras, Sharva (Śarvā) is associated with the kidneys, Bhāva with the liver, Rudra with the blood and the liver, Paśūpati, and Agni with the heart, Mahadeva with the intestines and Ugra/Aghora with the stomach/gut TS1.4.36. 
  9. Vājasaneyi Saṃhitā describes 6 aspects – Bhāva, Rudra, Śarvā, Paśūpati, Nilagriva and Śitikaṇṭha.
  10. When Rudra is associated with Liṅga then five aspects are described – Sadyojata, Vamadeva, Aghora, Tatpurusha, and īśhana.
  11. Finally, Brhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad 3.9.4 describes 33 Types/Aspects of Divinities and among them, 11 types are of Rudras. These 11 types are divided into 10 vital Prāṇa that enter 5 karma-indrias and 5 jnana-indrias and the 11th is the Atman/self/mind.  The closing hymns of Śrī Rudram address Rudra as the interconnected prana of all beings (प्राणानां ग्रन्थि-रसि). The same is found in Ramayana of Ṛṣi Vaśiṣṭha which says:
    • Rudra is the pure, spontaneous self-experience which is the one consciousness that dwells in all substances. It is the seed of all seeds, He is Prana, He is Atman, it is the essence of this world’s appearance, it is the greatest of actions. It is the cause of all causes and it is the essence in all beings, though in fact it does not cause anything nor is it the concept of being, and therefore cannot be conceived. ~ Yoga Vaśiṣṭham 6.1.36

So, here is the key: depending on the cause and the event, the concept of Rudra manifests, so Rudra’s expansion is countless. Rudra is a contradiction that doesn’t confine to any class or category. One cannot address Rudra without finding a polar opposite to it, that is why Rudra is called “that which is not”. So one has to be very attentive to the type of Rudra while resiting Rudriya (Hymns of Rudra). Because of this diversity and encompassing name of Rudra He is called Viṣvarūpam or Pururūpam or Virūpam (the universal or cosmic form with multiple flavors and multifold) or Viśvaiśvaryam RV 2.33/TS4.5.4/TA10.23.1/SU1.11. Śrī Rudram and Śatarudriya present the totality of Rudra’s omnipresence (which we will explore here) – especially Taittirīya Saṃhitā 1.8.6, which says “एक एव रुद्र न द्वितीयाय तस्थुर्” meaning “There is a Rudra without a second”. Hence, Rudra cannot be confined to a group or a singular entity. Rudra is the UNMANIFEST RAW concept from which anything and everything manifests, yet that manifestation is neither separate nor an independent entity. Hence, Rig Veda calls him सव-धाव्ने = self-reliant and सवराजः = self-governing RV5.58/7.46. This, in turn, gave a foundation to the Svetasvatara Upaniṣhad (one among the 18 primary Upaniṣhads) and also the later Atharvashiras Upaniṣhad (minor Upaniṣhad).

एको हि रुद्रो न द्वितीयाय तस्थुर्य इमांल्लोकानीशत ईशनीभिः। प्रत्यङ्जनांस्तिष्ठति सञ्चुकोचान्तकाले संसृज्य विश्वा भुवनानि गोपाः॥
There is (हि) The One (एको ) Rudrā (रुद्रो) and none (न) other than He, none can make Him second (द्विती) in being (याय) that is in existence (तस्थु:र्य) among the worlds( इमां:ल्लोका), He is the authority (ईशते) by His own authority (ईशनीभिः)| In all worlds/dimensions (भुवनानि) is His convolution and projection and guardians (संसृज् + ज्य + गोपाः) in entirety (विश्वा), He is established (तिष्ठति) in all beings (हे जनाः) as the indweller (प्रत्यङ्); and all beings (भूत्वा), at the time of final dissolution (अन्त:काले), become/withdraw into Him (सञ्चुकोच)

 Svetasvatara Upaniṣhad 3.2

On a similar note, the opening statement of Aitareya Upaniṣhad which stands in the 8th position states “In the beginning, all that was is Atman alone, the one, without a second. There was nothing else.” Here, instead of using Rudra, the Rishi Aitareya used Atman. In Brhadāraṇyaka, Rudra is declared as Atman. So Rudra is a raw concept and is not limited to a person.

It’s common for the human intellect to iconify names like Rudra and limit such names to an image/form, but we saw how Rudra is not a person or a creature to iconify. It’s clear from the event of Bhutavan in Rig Veda wherein a nameless divinity arises to save Prajapati and the Devas. Again in Sukla Yajur Veda Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa a nameless boy emerges from Prajāpati’s Yajñá and expanded into 8 forms which are famously known as the Astamurti tatva. Prajāpati says that the boy is not a mere boy (kumara) and even after searching He was nowhere to be found (Apaśyat) yet one can find Him in these eight forms (Rudra, Sarva, Paśūpati, Ugra, Aśani, Bhava, Mahādeva & īśhana). This is consistent with Katha Āraṇyaka wherein a nameless divinity is seen walking with Sun-like Luster (Adityavarnam) by the Devas upon reaching the heavenly realm. Rudra is a nameless and formless divinity (nāma-rūpa), which is why the worship of Śiva is of a Linga which is arūpa-rūpi and Nishkala. But what better than an analogy from Chandogya Upaniṣhad Chap 6:

यथा सोम्यैकेन मृत्पिण्डेन सर्वं मृन्मयं विज्ञात स्याद्वाचारम्भणं विकारो नामधेयं मृत्तिकेत्येव सत्यम्‌॥6.1.4
सदेव सोम्येदमग्र आसीदेकमेवाद्वितीयम् । तद्धैक आहुरसदेवेदमग्र आसीदेकमेवाद्वितीयं तस्मादसतः सज्जायत ॥6.2.1
कुतस्तु खलु सोम्यैवंस्यादिति होवाच कथमसतः सज्जायेतेति। सत्त्वेव सोम्येदमग्र आसीदेकमेवाद्वितीयम् ॥ 6.2.2
यथा सोम्य मधु मधुकृतो निस्तिष्ठन्ति नानात्ययानां वृक्षाणांरसान्समवहारमेकतांरसं गमयन्ति ॥ 6.9.1
“from a single ball of clay, we can know every form made of clay, the difference in form is but the name (nāma-rūpa). In the beginning was one being, without a second, or non-being, without a second; and from that various beings came to be. Just like bees make one honey from nectars of various flowers, yet the honey do not know from which tree or flower, in the same way, all beings begotten from One Being do not know their source”
Please note: the word “Being” doesn’t mean a person nor an alien or animal, beings means “to be” or “to exist”. Existence can’t be described or iconified with in image/form within the frontier of vocabulary.

 Chandogya Upaniṣhad 6.1.4/6.2.1/6.2.2/6.9.1/6.9.2

Though Svetasvatara Upaniṣhad is an absolute synopsis of Rudra, in this exploration we will take the path of Vedic Saṃhitās, Brahmans, and Āraṇyakas, still, we will use the Upaniṣhads as a culmination. Finally, we will use Itihāsa as the climax to our analysis. According to the hymns of the Rig Veda – as Sri Aurobindo states – “Rudra is the invisible force, and His arrows are Maruts, who are individual forces/phenomena” that can save us, but also cause destruction to reorder creation. Rudra manifests in the skies, in the sunlight, in the clouds, in rain, in lightning, in thunder, in the tempest (violent storm), in snow, and also in pleasant weather. He manifests in waves, streams, and rapids and also in still waters. He is in dust, in soil, in wood, and in green leaves, He is also in thorns and dried leaves and wood. He is here and beyond, and in all directions, hence He is called Dishamchapati. He is of all paths and mansions. He operates from near and from far, He manifests in animate and inanimate, He manifests in terror and in pleasantness, in fortune and in destitution. He is Ugra (the terrible), yet is the source of happiness and the source of delight. He manifests in all forms and in all beings and in all groups without reservation or preference. He manifests in the learned and in the immature, He manifests in all ages and genders and physical attributes and professions. He manifests in those who inflict discomfort yet he is also the healer and the foremost doctor/physician, He is the Ruler and Lord of a multitude of diversities, and it’s He who troubles us the least and who troubles us the most (नम आक्खिदते च प्रक्खिदते चTS4.5,VS16.5. In a single statement, Taittirīya Saṃhitā says 

“He is the chariot, He is the rider in the chariot, who is the charioteer and He is the maker of chariot”TS4.5.2. 

Similar analogy landed in Mahābhāratam which says 

“Thou art the fire upon which the sacrificial butter/ghee is poured. Thou art he who pours the ghee. Thou art he in honor of whom the ghee is poured, thou art the butter itself that is poured” MDP285.

Taittirīya Saṃhitā 4.5.2 / Mahabharatam Itihasa Drona Parva 285

Let’s come to divinities themselves, We have seen above that Agni becomes Rudra, and the same Agni becomes Śiva. Rudra enters into various aspects of Yajñá based on the cause, He manifests in waters placed in vessels called Kalaśas. Rudra manifests in various aspects like in medicines, into Soma, into Winds (Vayu) as prāṇa, into Vedic syllables (Triṣṭubh/Gayatri), and so forth. The following is a perfect example of how Rudra manifests into various Divinities, this is why Rudra becomes a RAW natural epithet to all Divinities, henceforth Rig Veda and other Vedas addressed him as Viṣvarūpam and Pururūpam and Virūpam, meaning the cosmic form or the all-encompassing omni-form RV 2.33.10/TS 4.5.4/TA 10.23.1. In the following case, Rudra manifests within Vastospati and so within Agni.

He offers ten in the same place; the Viraj has ten syllables; verily having obtained the Viraj, he makes it into a brick and piles it up; verily in the Viraj he obtains the sacrifice; the piling up must be repeated by him. Therefore that is the place of sacrifice where he advances having spent ten (nights); not suitable is the place where (he spends) less time than that, Now Vastospati is Rudra. If he were to go on without offering to Vastospati, the fire becoming Rudra would leap after him and slay him; he offers to Vastospati; verily with his own share he appeases him; the sacrificer does not come to ruin.

Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda Taittirīya Saṃhitā 3.4.10

One other Divinity who shares similar attributes, including physical attributes, and who is addressed as the Asura of Devas, and a few very specific titles – like Rudra – is Indra. The Atharva Veda points to Indra’s role as the supreme ruler in terms of the administration of Creation and Yajñá, but there is no clear reference to him being addressed as one of the Rudras. However, both Rudra and Indra share many similar titles like Vāstoṣpati, Vrittahan, Bhutapati & Satpatim. Aśani is an epithet of Rudra in the form of a thunderbolt held by Indra which is also mentioned in Mahābhāratam. Many scholars recognized Vayu as Rudra due to the distinct ability to be able to give birth to Maruts and a few acknowledge similarities to īśana (Rudra) RV 1.134. All this becomes clear when Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa Kanda 6 Brahmāṇa 3 of Śukla Yajur Veda declares the following:

As Ugra (the fierce one), Vayu became him. As Aśani, lightning/thunder becomes him. As Bhava, the rain becomes him. As Mahādeva, the highest Divinity, and the moon (Soma) became him. As īśhana (the authority/the ruler), the Sun became him. SB 6.3

Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa Kanda 6 Brahmāṇa 3

Let’s go a little further with Vayu who is the very source of wind, air, and intern the Prāṇā. Both Vaśiṣṭha Yogam and Br̥hadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 3.9.4 clearly say that Rudra is the 10 Prāṇās and when these Prāṇās depart all relatives cry (Rud). The conclusion hymns of Sri Rudram also state Rudra to be the collective Prāṇā that interlinks all beings (प्राणानां ग्रन्थि-रसि). Prajapati in Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa says to the child with the “first cry” at birth as arodīt, meaning the Prāṇā has now entered the body and the child has grasped its first breath. So both, when Prāṇā departs and when Prāṇā enters its Rudra. But why are we analyzing this? Because if we trace its root back to Rig Veda Samhitas 6.74.4 it says, “Oh Soma Rudra free us/liberate us from the tethers of Vayu” because it’s Vayu what tethers this body and its life and that very Prāṇā is Rudra, and its the same Rudra that can liberate us from this tether of Vayu. One can compare this statement with Rśi Vaśiṣṭha’s famous title Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra of Rig Veda 7.59 and Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda Taittirīya Saṃhitā 1.8 which asks Rudra “May you untie our bonds like a ripened gourd fruit unties itself from the stem, and take us beyond death and deplete our compulsions and take us into the immortal state”. One has to take note of how synchronous and consistent various Rishis/Ṛṣi have been when they addressed Rudra.

It is because of this ability to manifest into various divinities, especially in the most fierce aspects of divinities, that Rudra is greatly feared by Adhvaryu, sages, Ṛṣi, and other Devatas during the meticulous process of Yajñá. On the other hand, the commoners fear Rudra for their cattle, their families, children, offspring, homes, and farms. But, as we discussed, Rudra becomes a polar contradiction, wherein the same sages, Ṛṣi and commoners sing to Rudra and Maruts for their protection, their well-being, their health, knowledge, and, liberation from karma/death TS4.5.10. This fierce Rudra is also gentle, auspicious, friendly, a doctor who heals with His medicines, and gives immortality, a deliverer to Yama (the path of Truth), the abode of Truth (rta), a provider of wealth VS10.20,3.57, the three-eyed liberator (Triambaka), and protector of descendants, making him the most diverse, independent, foremost (Sriṣṭhaḥ) and contradictory Divinity in entire Vedas. This Rudra is WHOLE, and not dependent on anyone, hence self-supreme (Svadhanva) and an unconditional father to all.

He as Kṣatra takes all oblation on behalf of countless Rudras. When the multitude-form of Rudra receives this sacrifice, countless Rudras enter all dimensions of reality, and various beings with a multitude of aspects are pleased as they are born. Infinite Rudras emerge in all directions and from various sources and enter into all aspects of creation. Even a section of Taittirīya Āraṇyaka also knowns as the Nārāyaṇa Upaniṣhad one among minor yet famous Upaniṣhad perceives all aspects of creation in a cosmic form and called it Nārāyaṇa (by the Rśi Nārāyaṇa), exactly similar to Kṣatra and Manyu and so Rudras emerge from Nārāyaṇa, hence the saying “Narayana Rudro Jayet”.

All these aspects match well with the Puráńas that define Śiva and the Ganas that surround Him in thousands and thousands of groups and leagues TS4.5,VS16.6. They describe him as the one residing on mountains TS4.5.5/VS3.63, seated on the highest position, fair in complexion, with locks of hair, wearing deerskin TS1.8.6, handsome and muscular, with three eyes and a blue neck, holding a spear (Tri:Shula). We see the divine contradiction that He is both fierce and benevolent/adorable KYV4.5.10, ferocious yet gentle, supreme yet reachable, nourisher yet destroyer, a father to both pious and nefarious, a calm ascetic and a supreme dancer, simple yet dazzling. He is the wave and the calm sea, and many more immeasurable contradictions. As we enter into the Yajur Veda, especially into Śrī Rudram and Śatarudrīya, aspects of Rudra, Śiva, and Soma become crystal clear. But two questions remain which require a clear Verdict from Vedas, first, is Śiva just an adjective to Rudra, or is Rudra called by the very title Śiva? Second, why is Rudra of the Vedas addressed as Śiva in the Puráńas?

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