Rudra-Śiva: Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra for liberation

Shiva as Mrityunjaya, the Conquerer of Death, 12th century Bangladesh or India (Bengal), Pala period Black stone; H. 39 in. (99.1 cm); W. 18 1/2 in. (47 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Florence and Herbert Irving, in memory of Alice Boney, 1991 (1991.421)

How does one ask Rudra for liberation? How to ask Rudra to drive away from this Nirṛti? Well, the hymn composed by Rśi Vaśiṣṭha in three Vedas, the Rig Veda 7.56Sukla Yajur Veda Vājasaneyi Saṃhitā 3.60 and Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda Taittirīya Saṃhitā 1.8, famously known as the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra or Mokshyadayani Mantra, is not about protecting us from just physical death, but about liberation beyond the cycle of birth and death and into the forever state of immortals’ truth – amṛta. With this research, we will explore the concept of Mrityu and its close relation with Rudra. The concept of Mrityu is well explained in the Pravargya Yajna belonging to the Katha Śākhā, which we will explore soon. Please note the word “Sugandhim”, which usually means fragrance, but here it means the nostalgia one feels upon experiencing a certain sound or fragrance or taste. It is this nostalgia that surfaces during the final moments before death, and it is in these moments that one’s core compulsions – rooted deep into the conditioned mind – arise, and it is this nostalgia and thoughts that define the next life (upadhi). Through the path of Yoga, one has to condition their mind towards Ishwara or remove the cloud of Avidya, and through detachment from compulsions (Vairāgya), one’s true self can come forth. One must note the title “Trayambakam“, which we discussed earlier, is also found in Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda Taittirīya Saṃhitā 4.5 (Śrī Rudram), and in Sukla Yajur Veda Vājasaneyi Saṃhitā Kanda 3.56, and also in Śatapatha Brahmāṇa Kanda 2, Adhyaya 6, Brahmana 2 which explains the Yajñá dedicated to Rudra as Tryambaka performed towards the safety and prosperity after the war. This mantra is chanted while circling around the Yajñá Vedi and seeing oneself be separated from death and enter into the immortal truth. So Rudra is both the destructive death (Nirṛti) and also the liberator from the cycle of death as Tryambaka.

त्र्यंबकं यजामहे सुगंधिं पुष्टिवर्धनं । उर्वारुकमिव बंधनान्मृत्योर्मुक्षीय मामृतात् ॥ 7.59.12
Oh Triambaka (3 eyes/seasons), we offer our oblation (यजाम), nourish us (पुष्टि) and bestow us (वर्ध) into the trance of fragrance (सुगंधिं) | May you untie our bonds (बंधना) like a ripened gourd fruit (उर्वारु) unties itself from the stem, and take us beyond death (मृत्यु) and deplete (र्मुक्षीय) our compulsions (र्मु) and take us (मा) into the immortal state (अ॒मृत॑) (मृत्यु + मोक्ष (मोह+क्षेय) + मा-अमृतात्)
Please note: सुगंधिं does not mean physical perfume, but the nostalgia one feels upon experiencing a certain sound or fragrance or taste. So it means to bestow us into the sweetness of imagining Thy Divinity during the transcendental states of dhyana/dharana.
र्क्षीय: means to deplete, and र्मुक्षीय means to deplete our moha/compulsions arising out of Avidya. मा is also an Adj & Conj use as negative as “not”.

Rig Veda 7.59

Before we link this hymn to Caraka-Katha Śākhā and witness its evolution, let’s take notice of how the above landed in Āraṇyaka and one of the primary Upaniṣhad:

सद्योजातं प्रपद्यामि सद्योजाताय वै नमो नमः । भवेभवे नातिभवे भवस्व माम् । भवोद्भवाय नमः ॥
Oh Sadyojatha (सद्योजात = Rudra’s west side face) I surrender on to you (प्रपद्यामि) I bow to you again and again (नमो नमः) | Existance after Existance (भवेभवे = life after life) not more do I seek to comeback (नाति-भवे) liberate me from this repetation (भवस्-व माम्) oh one who is beyond existance (भवोद्भवाय) my salutations to thy (नमः)

स एव काले भुवनस्य गोप्ता विश्वाधिपः सर्वभूतेषु गूढः। यस्मिन्युक्ता ब्रह्मर्षयो देवताश्च तमेवं ज्ञात्वा मृत्युपाशांश्छिनत्ति॥4.15
He in Time (स एव काले ) the overlord/caretaker (गोप्ता) who is the one sole ruler (विश्वाधिपः) of all celestial mansions/creation (भुवनस्य) hidden indweller (गूढः) of all beings (सर्वभूतेषु ) | In whom (यस्मिन् ) the exalted sages who attained Brahmi states (ब्रह्मर्षयो) the divine beings (देवताश्च) merge into (युक्ताः ) by knowing him (तमेवं ज्ञात्वा) are released/cuts/free oneself (चिनत्ति) from the tethers of Death (मृत्युपाशां).

Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda Taittirīya Āraṇyaka 10.17-21 & Svetasvatara Upaniṣhad 4.15

The Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra has its linkage from Rig Veda to Yajur VedSaṃhitās, but the Caraka-Katha School (Śākhā) of Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda places this homage into implementation as a part of its Pravargya Yajna, so let’s see how the Yajamana of Yagna goes beyond death giving us a practical relevance to this hymn. So let’s start with a little background of Katha Śākhā’s basis and move to the context of Mrityu:

The Pravargya is said to beat off recurring death (punarmrtyum apahanti, III 219). The discussion of recurring death represents the intermediate state in the development of Upanishadic thought, emerging as the theory of rebirth with karma in the Upanisads. How ‘second-death’ is to be affected seems to be dependent on the effect of this additional and more severe diksa. It is significant that the undertaking of this special observance results just like that of a normal diksa — in a kind of rebirth of the yajamana. In the present case he not only becomes another consecrated person with a new name, a diksita, but in addition, he also separates himself from death by undergoing the avantaradika in the wilderness.
The Katha (Katha Shaka) clearly stands at the crossroads of traditional brahmana ideas and the beginnings of Upanishadic thought. The idea of punarmrtyu (Katha III 219 apa punarmrtyum jayati, ya evam veda) is one of the steps leading to the Upanishadic concept of Karmic rebirth. In fact, there were several strands of belief that. for the first time in Vedic thought, resulted in the idea of constant rebirth, seen gradually developing in the older Upanishads.

Now, let’s understand what is rebirth (punarmrtyum) mentioned by Katha Śākhā, and how is Rudra related to this, and finally how the Yajamana can achieve what is mentioned in Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra by Rśi Vaśiṣṭha:

The Yajamana is implicitly identified with Rudra during the Pravargya (II 100-101). Like Rudra, he gains a new bodily form, svargakrti (II 143, cf. III 225), a ‘heavenly body’. This can be done in several ways. After taking the Pravargya vessel and the other utensils eastwards (III 177), all are laid out in the form of a man. This action creates a new body for the Yajamana, with the Pravargay vessel that glowed during the ritual as his head. In sum, the sponsor of the ritual also becomes adiyavarna ‘sun-skinned’, and goes to heaven like Rudra (III 183).
In the Katha Aranyaka, this is the Pravargya, a ritual in which a blazing clay vessel (mahavira) is identified with the Sun and Rudra Mahavira. This ritual also aims at giving the sponsor of the ritual (Yajamana) a new, heavenly body. This is established by multiple Upanishad-like identification between various entities of microcosm (man), ritual (Yajna), and macrocosm.
Please note: this heavenly body is a subtle body to ascend to heavens (sargo vai loka auttaravedikas III 233: 91.1-2)

From reading the above, as a seeker one must ask two questions, Is Rudra Adiyavarna “Sun-like luster”? Second, does the famous Katha Upaniṣhad concur with the above? The answer is yes to both. Rig Veda itself addresses Rudra with Sun-like luster along with other Vedic Saṃhitā. Coming to Katha Upaniṣhad which itself is a primary Upaniṣhad that belongs to Caraka-Katha Śākhā says:

अङ्गुष्ठमात्रः पुरुषोऽन्तरात्मा सदा जनानां हृदये संनिविष्टः। तं स्वाच्छरीरात्प्रवृहेन्मुञ्जादिवेषीकां धैर्येण। तं विद्याच्छुक्रममृतं तं विद्याच्छुक्रममृतमिति ॥2.3.17
The Purusha, the Spirit within, who is no larger than the finger of a man is seated for ever in the heart of creatures; one must separate Him with patience from one’s own body as one separates from a blade of grass its main fiber. Thou shalt know Him for the Bright Immortal, yea, for the Bright Immortal.

Katha Upaniṣhad 2.3.17

We will go into detail about Caraka-Katha Śākhā soon but let’s explore other Vedic Saṃhitā in relevance with liberation. Here is how Atharva Ved7.42.2 addresses Soma-Rudra, with hymns also found in Rig Veda 2.74 & 6.74.2 & 6.74.3:

सोमारुद्रा वि वृहतं विषूचीम् अमीवा या नो गयम् आविवेश । बाधेथां दूरं निरृतिम् पराचैः॒ कृतं चिद् एनः प्र मुमुक्तम् अस्मत् ॥१॥
Cast away (वृह), and separate us (विषूची) from all bondages/sicknesses (अमीवा) from us and our families (गय) O Soma and Rudra (सोमारुद्रा ), drive away (पराचै) afar ( दूरं) our pain/suffering (बाध) and death/destruction (निरृति) liberate us ( मुक्त ) from those (अस्मत्) even if (चिद्) they are committed (कृत) sins/papa ( एनः) 7.42.1

सोमारुद्रा यु॒वमेतान्यस्मे विश्वा तनूषु भेषजानि धत्तम् |अव स्यतं मु॒ञ्चतं यन्नो अस्ति तनूषु बद्धं कृ॒तमेनो अस्मत् ॥२॥
O Soma and Rudra (सोमारुद्रा ) always bestow (ध – धत) upon us (यु॒वम +एतानि +अन्य्) the cure, with all (विश्वा) your medicines (भेषजानि) tied to our bodily realm (तनू) | liberate us/untie us (मुञ्चति) from those (अस्मत्) we have (अस्ति) done(कृ॒त) , which (य) are connected (बद्ध) with our physical/bodily realm (तनू) 7.42.2.
Please note: (यु॒वम +एतानि +अन्य्) means all these for us, used as 2nd person pronoun.
Soma and Rudra! Bring all these medicines to our bodies! Untie, get rid of from us the sin committed that is bound to our bodies. 

मा नो रुद्र तक्मना मा विषेण मा नः सं -स्रा दिव्येनाग्निना 11.2.26
Rudra (रुद्र) untie (सं -स्रा) for us (नो ) those diseases (तक्म – ना ) and those vicious poisons (विषेण मा न) and from the divine fire (दिव्येनाग्निना)
Please note : सं -स्रा = untie where as सं-स्राव = flow together

 Atharva Veda 7.42.1-2

The synopsis of immortality and liberation and knowledge ended in the Upaniṣhad as:

या ते रुद्र शिवा तनूरघोराऽपापकाशिनी।तया नस्तनुवा शंतमया गिरिशन्ताभिचाकशीहि॥3.5
You (या) Rudra of Auspicious (शिवा) body (तनू), and of fierce form (अघोरा) resident of highest place (गिरिशन्त) with your brilliant design/thought (अभिचा +काश्) which removes our avidya and karmic cycle of pāpa (अ-पापकाशिनी ) make us (नः) realize our blissful clam self(शंतमया + तनू  +तया )
ततः परं ब्रह्मपरं बृहन्तं यथानिकायं सर्वभूतेषु गूढम्‌।विश्वस्यैकं परिवेष्टितारमीशं तं ज्ञात्वाऽमृता भवन्ति॥3.7
Henceforth/moreover, further than (ततः परं) Greatness known to us/our personal God (बृहन्त) is Brahman/infinite that is further/superior (ब्रह्म+परं ) thought each enjoyed their own bodies/individuality (यथानिकायम्) He is the indweller hidden in all (सर्व+भूतेषु+गूढम् ) he along encompasses all entirety and is its authority (विश्वस्य+ एकं+ परिवेष्टितारम + ईशाम् ) knowing/realizing that one becomes amṛta/immortal (ज्ञात्वा+अमृताः ).

 Svetasvatara Upaniṣhad 3.5, 3.7

Both Puráńas and Itihasa concur with Rudra and his relation with Mrityu and PunarMrityu in the event where Rśi Sukracharya seeks Śiva and achieves Mritasanjeevini which can bring back the dead. Again, in the event of Rśi Markandeya when the lord of death, Yama released his pasha (rope) to take the life of Markandeya, Śiva’s kick (Devi’s Kick as She is the left leg of Maheshwara) kills Yama. In this way, Śiva becomes the Mrityu to the Lord of death itself. Let’s go to Mahabharatam Sauptika Parva, in which Yudhishthira (Dharmaraj), in despair for losing his children and many others to Drona’s son Ashwathama questions Śrī Kṛṣṇa (Vasudeva), for which He replies:

The holy one said, ‘Verily, Drona’s son had sought the aid of that highest of all the gods, viz., the eternal Mahadeva. It was for this that he succeeded in slaying, single-handed, so large a number of warriors. If Mahadeva be gratified, he can bestow even immortality. Girisha can give such valor as will succeed in checking Indra himself. I know Mahadeva truly, O bull of Bharata’s race! I know also his various acts of old. He, O Bharata, is the beginning, the middle, and the end of all creatures. The entire Universe acts and moves through his energy.

Mahabharatam Itihāsa Sauptika Parva 17

Similarly, Śrī Adi Śankaracharya said:

अन्नपूर्णे सदापूर्णे शङ्करप्राणवल्लभे । ज्ञानवैराग्यसिद्ध्यर्थं भिक्षां देहि च पार्वति ॥ ११॥
Devi Annapurnae, you are forever whole/full, oh beloved eternal companion of Śankara. Bestow upon me as alms the Jnana (wisdom/core essence) that leads to the meaningful outcome of Vairāgya (detachment from desires and compulsions), oh daughter of mountains, Pārvatī.

 Annapurāstakam by Śrī Adi Śankaracharya

MEANS TO LIBERATION: We discussed various dimensions to liberation, through Soma, through amrta, through the Path of Yama, and more. We also realized the Vedic Divinities associated with it. But what are the means? Is it Bhakti, Janan, Karma, or more? This is what the Upanishads are designed for, a discussion between a student and a realized Guru. Svetasvatara Upaniṣhad 6.13 is a good example like many other Upaniṣhads:

नित्यो नित्यानां चेतनश्चेतनानामेको बहूनां यो विदधाति कामान्‌। तत्कारणं सांख्ययोगाधिगम्यं ज्ञात्वा देवं मुच्यते सर्वपाशैः॥
The One Eternal (नित्य) of all that is considered eternal (नित्यानां), The One Conscious (चेतन) in all consciousnesses (awareness in all); He is the Singularity (THE ONE) (एकः) Supreme Ruler and the Judge (विदधा) over all the desires/needs (कामान्) of all beings with names and forms (बहू+नाम्); He is the one Source (तत्कारणम्) to which Sankhya and Yoga (सांख्य+योगा) bring us. One who realizes and knows thy Divine (देवम् ज्ञात्वा) through them shall release all tethers/bondages (सर्वपाशैः मुच्यते).

Svetasvatara Upaniṣhad 6.13

DAKSHINA MURTHI: In continuation to liberation let us understand another celebrated title Dakshina Murthi. Many interpret the word dakshina as only “South”. In Sanskrit, dahkshina means “to be on the right side” or “correct/highest position”, another meaning is “that which is linked through Yajñá (sacrificial process)”. Hence, the word Pra:dakshina, meaning to circle around the deity towards our right, hence signifies the stature of the deity. Since He (Śiva) is medha-patim “the resort of Yajñá/Sacrifice” RV1.43 TS1.3.14 and is seated at the top (pinnacle) of the Himalayan mountains with the daughter of the mountains, He overlooks everything below. Hence the title Dakshina Murthi. But is it that simple? How can one seek the identity and the source of Dakshina facing Rudra? One can seek Svetasvatara Upaniṣhad 4.21 which says “हे रुद्र यत् ते दक्षिणं मुखं तेन मां नित्यं पाहि॥”, here “Dakshina Mukham” doesn’t mean facing South, it denotes the auspicious side of Him with which He always protects. The term Highest Position doesn’t mean just North or limited to one specific direction because He is “dishām ca pataye” and “Pathīnāṃ-Pataye” TS4.5.2,VS16.17, meaning the abode/lord of all Celestial Quarters (directions), hence the famous title digambara (Digeva:ambaram:asya), meaning the one who is clad/clothed with space and all directions. Atharva Ved11.2.14-16 says to Bhava-Rudra “नमो यतमस्यां दिशीतः” meaning “our salutations to you in whatever directions you are” and it continues by saying “salutations to you while coming or going, which seated or standing and while day and night”. This concept gave rise to the title Cidamabara, meaning the one clad with the very consciousness (cit), hence the temple Chidambaram Nataraja temple in Tamil Nadu, India. While Indra, Surya, Visnu, and other solar deities are associated with East, Śatapatha Brahmāṇa extensively associates Rudra, Soma, Varuna, and Mitras with the Northern quarter of the Yajñá Vedi AV3.7 TS2.6.6, or the topmost position. But a top position of what? This can be found when Maruts, the children of Rudra, are addressed with the three titles vidatheṣu ā-bhuvaḥ (born in knowledge), mahiṣāsaḥ māyinaḥ:citra-bhānavaḥ (the makers of māyā and of clear vision/light) and pra-cetasaḥ viśva-vedasaḥ (conscious & omniscient) RV1.64.6-10Sukla Yajur Veda Kanda 7.2 Brahmāṇa 1 narrates the story of the dual divinities Soma-Rudra who are the dispellers of darkness because Soma is Andhaḥ, meaning remover/dispeller RV1.122,2.33.7 and Rudra becomes Andhasaspati (the lord of Soma). They destroyed the asura Svarbhānu, who created darkness by obstructing the Sun. Rudra also destroyed the Asuras in the famous story of Tripuras (the three kingdoms made of gold, silver, and iron) using Agni as the tip of the arrow, Soma as the stem of the arrow, Viṣṇu as the arrow Shaft TS6.2.3/4.5.5,MB-KarnaParva34. Similarly, they dispel the darkness in people and allow the brilliance to shine forthTS4.5.10. Now, let us look at how Rig Veda sings:

ईळे अग्निं सववसं नमोभिर इह परसत्तो वि चयत कर्तं नः |रथैर इव पर भरे वाजयद्भिः परदक्षिणिन मरुतां सतोमम रध्याम || 5.60
īḷe aghniṃ svavasaṃ namobhir iha prasatto vi cayat kṛtaṃ naḥ |rathair iva pra bhare vājayadbhiḥ par-dakṣiṇin marutāṃ stomam ṛdhyām || 5.60
We send (ईळे) our oblations through Agni (अग्निं) as you are the transmitter of Yajñá (कर्तं नः), accept our praise (नमो) now (इह) oh Agni as we hand over our oblations (परसत्तो)| o those rides of Chariots (रथैर), supreme in battels (पर भरे), we urge to you (वाजयद्भिः) who is on the furthermost(पर) rightward/prestigious position as a councilor/teacher (दक्षिणिन), oh Maruts, you are equally supreme of our praise and songs (रध्याम).

अच्छा॑ वदा॒ तना॑ गि॒रा ज॒रायै॒ ब्रह्म॑ण॒स्पतिं॑ ।अ॒ग्निं मि॒त्रं न द॑र्श॒तं ॥ 1.38.13
With the chant (अच्छा॑ वदा॒) of this hymn may thy Agni embody/manifest (तना॑), and by these words (गि॒रा) of invocation (ज॒रायै॒) of the Lord/resort of Wisdom (ब्रह्म॑ण॒स्पतिं॑) || May Agni (अ॒ग्निं) show us that friend (मि॒त्रं) with your brilliance.
please note: अच्छा॑ = voice, but here it means the chant of this mantra. And Agni’s friends are the Maruts.

Rig Veda 5.60, 1.38.13

या ते रुद्र शिवा तनूरघो॒रापापकाशिनी  4.5.1
You (या) Rudra of Auspicious (शिवा) body (तनूः)(शिवा = Śivā unified form of Śiva+Uma due to the emphasis on ā), and of fierce form (अघोरा) is the dispeller of our darkness and karmic remnants (अ-पापकाशिनी )

या ते रुद्र शिवा तनूः शिवा विश्वाह भेषजी | शिवा रुद्रस्य भेषजी तया नोमृड जीवसे
“yate Rudra Śivā tanuhu Śivā Vishvaha Bheshaji | Śivā Rudrasya Bheshaji 
Oh Rudra you are of Śiva (auspicious) body/form. As Śivā to your the medicine/cure (भेष॒जी) to all entirety, you are eternal cure to all worldly ailments (विश्वाहभेषजी ) With that (तया) auspicious form (शिवा) you are the cure to our crying/suffering (रुद्रस्य) (samsara/avidya) medicine (भेषजी) is the relief to us all (न) jivas (जीवसे all living entities) comfort/solace (मृड).

Please note: नो मृड जी॒वसे᳚ : can also interpreted as “save our lives (जी॒वसे᳚) away (नो ) from death (मृड)”
Note: (शिवा = Śivā is the unified form of Śiva+Uma due to the emphasis on ā)

 Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda Taittirīya Saṃhitā 4.5.1 /

In the climax of a Yajñá the remaining water he (Adhvaryu) offers to Agnidhra Fire. This residual water is excess and Agnidhra is excess. The Havis are combusted in Garhapatya Fire and the oblations are made in the Ahavaniya Fire. This Agnidhra is receiving what is declared in excess. That is why this is offered to the Divine Rudra, and this northern quarter where the Agnidhra resides is the quarter of the God. He offers saying “Oh Rudra! that name of yours is effective in inflicting pain to the evil/enemies and which is Highest, to that name we offer this water!”

Sukla Yajur Veda Kanda7.3.3.4 Brahmāṇa 2

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