Rudra: The Un-Manifested / Raw / “That which is Not”

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 . ~ Aitareya Brahmāṇa 3.34

He is unknown to the Devas after they ascended to the heavenly realm and noticed an entity with a Sun-like luster (adityavarnam) walking around. ~CarakaKaṭhĀraṇyaka 2.100sqq

The name of Rudra is a secret, it is known only to the learned sages. But his arsonal is Śivā and is favorable to us ~Atharva Veda Shaunaka Saṃhitā 1.95.2

Aitareya Brahmāṇa 3.34 / Kaṭha Āraṇyaka 2.100sqq / Atharva Veda Shaunaka 1.95.2

Rudra is not a name, nor a title, Rudra is an acclamation as He can be anything and everything as we have seen in the Viṣvarūpam section. Since one cannot single out Rudra as a unipolar personality nor can one iconify him, there is neither a fixed form, a fixed set of attributes nor a fixed count to Rudras, Any time we declare Rudra as something, it gets contradicted. But wait how can that be? Let’s start with the question, How many Rudras? Following is a list from across Vedas in which Rudras are counted in different ways, one can briefly skim these 11 points if they are not in-depth explorers.

  1. Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda Taittirīya Saṃhitā 1.4.11 states “three and thirty in troops”; at the same time it says “eleven are seated on waters”.
  2. When Vedic metre is considered, Rudras are associated with Triṣṭubh which has 11 syllables multiplied by 4 steps, hence Śrī Rudram of the Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda describes 11 homages to Rudra.
  3. Similarly, Śatarudriya of the Śukla Yajur Veda mentions 6 Rudras with Triṣṭubh Metre, and gives 6 X 11 = 66 homages to 100 Rudras. The same Śatarudriya 16.54 states that Rudra manifests in all and so there are innumerable thousands of Rudras. 
  4. Taittirīya Saṃhitā 4.5 talks about 1000 Rudras covering the Earth with 100 bows and 100 arrows.
  5. Yoga of Ṛṣi Vaśiṣṭha describes 100 Rudras, yet says Rudras expand infinitely, whereas the Mahābhārata Itihāsam in its Drona Parva-Nārāyaṇastra-Mokshana Parva 203 says “Infinite Rudras”.
  6. In terms of creation being unfolded both Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa of Śukla Yajur and Kausitaki Brāhmaṇa Rig Veda talk about 8 expansions Bhava, Śarva, Paśūpati, Ugra, Mahādeva, Rudra, īśhana, and Aśani.
  7. When offering sacrifice during Yajñá is in the discussion, Atharva Veda 15.5 talks about 7 Rudras emerging in 7 intermediator/intermediate spaces in different directions – Bhāva to the Eastern, Śarvā to the 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 of Śukla Yajur 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. Brhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad 3.9.4 describes 33 Types/Aspects of Divinities and among them, 11 aspects/types are of Rudras. These 11 types are divided into 10 vital Prāṇas that enter 5 karma-indrias and 5 jnana-indrias and the 11th is the Atman/self/mind. The closing hymns of Sri Rudram address Rudra as the “interconnected Prāṇa” of all beings (प्राणानां ग्रन्थि-रसि). The same is found in Ramayana of Ṛṣi Vaśiṣṭha which says: “Rudra is the seed of all seeds, He is Prāṇa, 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

Now that we have seen 11 different ways Rudras are named and counted, let’s give a bold contradiction using the sections, Śrī Rudram and Śatarudriya that present the totality of Rudra’s omnipresence. Taittirīya Saṃhitā 1.8.6 says “एक एव रुद्र न द्वितीयाय तस्थुर्” meaning “There is only One, Rudra without a second”. This, in turn, gave a foundation to the Svetasvatara Upaniṣhad (one among the 18 primary Upaniṣhads) and also the Atharvashiras Upaniṣhad (a 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.

So, how many Rudras? One? Eleven? Infinite? The moment we think we have a number, we don’t. The number 11 is very popular but as we can see above that is not the case. So, here is the key: depending on the cause and the event, the concept of Rudra manifests. So one has to be very attentive as to the type of Rudra while resiting Rudriya. For the concept of Rudra to manifest in infinite diversities yet there is one Rudra and nothing other than He shows that Rudra is a RAW entity from which all and any manifestation arises as a cause.

What is Rudra’s form and name?

Let’s try a different approach now, it’s common for the human intellect to iconify names or Divinities like Rudra, and limit such names to an image/form, so let’s understand Rudra’s form with events from both Rig, Śukla, and Kṛṣṇa Yajur Vedas. First is the event of Bhutavan in Rig Veda wherein a nameless divinity arises to liberate Prajāpati of his sins. Second, in Śukla Yajur Veda Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa a nameless boy emerges from Prajāpati’s Yajñá and asks for 8 different names and expanded into 8 forms, famously known as the Astamurti tatva (Rudra, Sarva, Paśūpati, Ugra, Aśani, Bhava, Mahādeva & īśhana). After this expansion, Prajāpati says that this boy is no mere boy (kumara), and even after searching He was nowhere to be found (Apaśyat). Finally, a nameless divinity described in Katha Āraṇyaka of Kṛṣṇa Yajur is witnessed by Devatas when they reach the heavenly realm walking with Sun-like Luster (Adityavarnam). Sri Aurobindo in his Vedic commentary states – “Rudra is the invisible force”. So, this Rudra is nameless, but expands into 8 forms and has 8 names, but He is nowhere to be found in these forms, and the Devatas don’t know this being who glows like the Sun, but he is infinite yet only one, so how do Rishis of the Vedas conclude this? Because of this diversity and encompassing names, Rishis across Vedas addressed Rudra with 4 titles, they are Viṣvarūpam, Pururūpam, Virūpam (the universal or cosmic form with multiple flavors and multifold), and Viśvaiśvaryam RV 2.33/TS4.5.4/TA10.23.1/SU1.11.

So, What is Rudra’s form, and What is his name? Is Rudra a boy? Is he in these 8 forms? Does he have 8 names? If not, where is he to be found? Is he physical or subjective or objective? So he has 8 forms but is nowhere to be found and is an invisible force, He has a name but is nameless, He has a form, but is cosmic (Viṣvarūpam), He has color but is multi-hued (Pururūpam). So anything we say about Rudra gets automatically contradicted. For this discussion, let’s argue that Viṣvarūpam is his cosmic form, then Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Brhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad, Yoga, and many others say that Rudra is Atomic (suksma), and the Prāṇa (the life force). Even Sri Aurobindo calls Rudra the invisible force. So Rudra is both cosmic and atomic at the same time. But wait, Atharva and Yajur Vedas again say Rudra is MahāKal (Time). So, Rudra is the RAW, UNMANIFEST divine that one cannot definitively say “this is Rudra” because that statement gets contradicted as “that is not”.

This raises a vital question, how does one worship this nameless-formless (nāma-rūpa), yet atomic and cosmic form? This is why the worship of Śiva is of a Linga which is arūpa-rūpi and Niṣkalā meaning without parts or categories or attributes. But what better than an analogy from Chandogya Upaniṣhad Chap 6 (major Upaniṣhad):

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
ते यथा तत्र न विवेकं लभन्तेऽमुष्याहं वृक्षस्य रसोऽस्म्यमुष्याहं वृक्षस्य रसोऽस्मीत्येवमेव खलु सोम्येमाः सर्वाः प्रजाः सति सम्पद्य न विदुः सति सम्पद्यामह इति ॥
“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 6.2.1/6.2.2/6.9.1/6.9.2

Though Svetasvatara Upaniṣhad is an absolute synopsis of Rudra, in this exploration we will take the path of Vedic Saṃhitās, Brahmans, and Āraṇyakas, but will use the Upaniṣhads as a culmination and Itihāsa as the climax to our analysis. According to the hymns of the Rig Veda – as Sri Aurobindo in his commentary 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. So is Rudra married? Yes, She is called Rodasi and Rudrani. Does He have children? Yes, they are the Maruts. Then is Rudra a Gruhast? Yes, but he is an Aghora, an ascetic too. How does that work? How can the one who is Viṣvarūpam (cosmic form), Pururūpam/Virūpam (multi-form) have a wife? Well for all his 8-fold manifestations, She is his counterpart. For Rudra, She is Rodashi/Rudrani, for Bhava, She is Bhavani, similarly for Sharva-Sharvani, for Ishana-Ishvari, and so on. Vijñānabhairava Tantra summarizes this beautifully, it says:

Śiva says to Śakti: There is always non-difference between Śakti and the possessor of Śakti(Śaktimān) therefore being endowed with His (i.e. Śaktimān’s) attributes Śakti becomes the bearer of the same attributes. Therefore being non-different form para the highest e.e. Bhairava) She is known as Parā (the highest i.e. Bhairavi). The burning power of fire is not accepted as separate from the fire even after full consideration (even so the Parāśakti is not separate from Bhairava). Only it is described in a distinct way as a preliminary step for the listener towards its knowledge (lit., towards entry into its knowledge) 18-19

Śiva says to Śakti: When in one who enters the state of Śakti (i.e. who is identified with Śakti), there ensues the feeling of non-distinction (between Śakti and Śiva), then he acquires the state of Śiva, (for) in the agamas (iha), She (Śakti) is declared as the door of entrance (into Śiva, Śaivi Mukha = She is the face of Śiva) (Lit., Śakti is Śiva‘s face). Just as by means of the light of a lamp, and the rays of the Sun, portions of space, ect. are known even so, Oh dear on, by means of Śakti is Śiva (who is one’s essential Self) cognized (i.e. recognized). 20-21Vijñānabhairava Tantra 20-21

Vijñānabhairava Tantra 18-21

Is there a place Rudra manifests?

So, for the one who is Viṣvarūpam, is there a place Rudra manifests? Śrī Rudram of Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda Taittirīya Saṃhitā is the perfect answer to this question, it says:

He manifests in the skies and in the sunlight, in the clouds and in rain, in lightning and in thunder, in the tempest (violent storm), in snow and 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, 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 He 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.

Śrī Rudram of Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda Taittirīya Saṃhitā 4.5

Time to summarise all this 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. 

Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda Taittirīya Saṃhitā 4.5.2

A 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.

Mahabharatam Itihasa Drona Parva 285

So, where does Rudra manifest? He manifests in all polarity, He is the parts, but he is the whole, and he has no parts (Niṣkalā) yet everything is Him, He is a contradiction by Himself. The moment we say this is it, He is not, hence, “He is that which is not limited to anything”, as everything is Him, yet we cannot grasp that so we perceive him by our limited scope and witness creation in sections, parts, and attributes. Vijñānabhairava Tantra says:

Paratva (Supremacy) or transcendence cannot be consistent with the division of letters and colour or of bodies (an hi varavibhedena dehabhedena vā bhavet paratvam); paratva or transcendence consists only in indivisibility (Niṣkalātvena); it (transcendence) cannot co-exist with sakala (a composite of parts) (sakalatve an tadbhavet). 5-6

The sakala (parts with name and forms) aspect of Bhairava is taught as a prop for meditation, to those who are of deluded intellect, who are interested in ostentatious performance of rituals, it has been declared for those people who are a prey of dichotomising thought-conscructs (vikalpanihatātmannām) 10

Parāvasthā (the highest transcendental state) of Bhairava is free (unmukta) of all notions pertaining to direction (dik), time (kāla), no can that be particularized (aviśeini) by some definie space (deśa) or disignation (uddeśa). In verity (paramārthatah) that can neither be indicated (vyapadetum aśakyā) nor described in words (akathyā). 17

Vijñānabhairava Tantra 5-17 (book: Divine Consciousness by Jaideva Singh pg 10.)

What about other divinities in the Vedas?

Now, this section is an in-depth analysis suitable for detailed explorers. We have seen our other sections where 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 Kalasha. Rudra manifests in various aspects like in medicines, into Soma, into Winds (Vayu) as prāṇa (hence AUM is called prāṇavam), 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 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 VāstoṣpatiVrittahanBhutapati & Satpatim. Asani 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. But it all 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 Br̥hadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 3.9.4 and Ramayana of Ṛṣi Vaśiṣṭha 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 Prāṇa 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 who drinks Soma first RV4.46.1 and it Vayu who tethers this body and its life as Prāṇā, which itself is Rudra, hence, its the same Rudra that can liberate us from this tether of Vayu. Even the Yoga Sutras called it Prāṇāyama because it deals with the vital flow of Vayu into our body as Prāṇā. Hence, the Vak of Ishvara is called Prāṇāvam (AUM). One can compare this statement with Rśi Vaśiṣṭha’s famous hymn titled “Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra” from both 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, 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 of the 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, calm sea, and many more immeasurable contradictions. The moment we say Rudra is “This” then he is not. 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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