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Is Brahman androgynous?

If Nirguna Brahman is really genderless, then why it’s shakti (maya) is considered feminine, while the non-shakti part is considered masculine? Doesn’t that make IT an androgynous being?

It is usually thought by us that just because most of us haven’t completely realized its true nature, we end up perceiving IT as a being having gender, but its not only us ordinary folks but even the self realized jnanis hold onto the belief that one half of brahman is masculine and the other half is feminine … Even the Kashmiri Shaivites, if im not wrong, say that shiva is nirguna, nirakara brahman who’s masculine in nature while its shakti is feminine.

I mean if Brahman is really nirguna then shouldn’t IT be devoid of these male & female halves or aspects?

If its really nirguna (genderless) then IT should be more like the void that buddhists meditate on. The void in my opinion is the perfect example of nirguna, nirakara incomprehensible absolute.

Shakti is Brahman, as long as one doesn’t realize God, one sees male and female aspect.

Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna / Volume 1 / The Festival At Panihati:

GOVINDA: “Revered sir, why does the Divine Mother have a black complexion?”7

Sri Ramakrishna: “You see Her as black because you are far away from Her. Go near and you will find Her devoid of all colour. The water of a lake appears black from a distance. Go near and take the water in your hand, and you will see that it has no colour at all. Similarly, the sky looks blue from a distance. But look at the atmosphere near you; it has no colour. The nearer you come to God, the more you will realize that He has neither name nor form. If you move away from the Divine Mother, you will find Her blue, like the grass-flower. Is Syama male or female? A man once saw the image of the Divine Mother wearing a sacred thread. He said to the worshipper: ‘What? You have put the sacred thread on the Mother’s neck!’ The worshipper said: ‘Brother, I see that you have truly known the Mother. But I have not yet been able to find out whether She is male or female; that is why I have put the sacred thread on Her image. That which is Syama is also Brahman. That which has form, again, is without form. That which has attributes, again, has no attributes. Brahman is Sakti; Sakti is Brahman. They are not two. These are only two aspects, male and female, of the same Reality, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute.”



Brahman is a neuter-gender word in sanskrit. In the Isha-Upanishad, it is referred to as

A-kAyam, meaning bodiless.

The Svetasvatara-Upanishad says

naiva stri na pumaAn esha na cha eva ayam napunsakah, meaning its neither male nor female nor neuter-gendered.

  1. The Shakti or Maya are considered feminine in sanskrit. But Its not feminine in any real sense, as no gender can exist of something which is essentially formless:

na iyam yoshit na pumAn na shaNdo na jadah smritah (Navaratneswara-vachana in Tantra-Tattva.)

As per Tantra therefore Shakti also does not have any gender,

but Shakti fulfills all desires like the wish-fulfilling plant (‘kalpa-latA) and so is referred to as female.

Ragahava-Bhatta too is of the same opinion.

Gandharva-Tantra also says:

yadApi lingatrayabachyA..tathApi samata-Akankha-kalpaballi parashaktishbdabAchA.

So all are of the same opinion that neither Brahman nor Shakti has any gender and referred to as male or female for different reasons.

Reference: Sastramulak Bharatiya Shaktisadhana, Upendrakumar Das, RMIC, vol.1, page 336-7.

Meaning of Pashupati

The name PashuPati is given 3 times itself in the Veda Samhita in the Sri Rudram. The 2nd Anuvaka states “Pashunam Pataye Namaha”, 8th Anuvaka states “Nama Sangaye Cha Pasupataye Cha” and particularly 5th Anuvaka states:

नमो भवाय च रुद्राय च। नमश्शर्वाय च पशुपतये च।
Salutations to him who is Bhava, who is Rudra, who is Sharva and who is PashuPati.

So, the name PashuPati is of significant importance.

This blog describes What exactly is meant by the name PashuPati? Who actually are the Pashus? By what rope does the PashuPati binds the Pashu? What is the Concept of PashuPati?

Meaning of Pashupati:

Pashupati means Lord of all Pashus. Here Pashu means every creatures and not just animals. It is clarified itself in the YajurVeda. Yajurveda states:

येषामीशे पशुपतिः पशूनां चतुष्पदामुत च द्विपदम् ।। [YajurVeda 3.1.4]
Which Pashus do the Pashupati rules? He rules both the two footed and four footed.

When Vedas say ruler of two footed and four footed (dwipada , chatuspada) then it has special significance because it is the attribute of Brahman described in the Upanishads. Like the Shwetashwatara Upanishad 4.13 states:

यो देवानामधिपो यस्मिन्ल्लोका अधिश्रिताः ।
य ईशे अस्य द्विपदश्चतुष्पदः कस्मै देवाय हविषा विधेम ॥

He who is the sovereign of the gods, in whom the worlds find their support, who rules over all two−footed and four−footed beings− let us serve that God, radiant and blissful, with an oblation.

Lord Shiva as Lord of all two footed and four footed is also stated in 4.28 of AtharvaVeda:

भवाशर्वौ मन्वे वां तस्य वित्तं ययोर्वामिदं प्रदिशि यद्विरोचते।
यावस्येशाथे द्विपदो यौ चतुष्पदस्तौ नो मुञ्चतमंहस ।। (AtharvaVeda 4.28)

Everything that shines is under your control Oh Bhava and Sarva. Oh Isha you are the lord of all two footed and four footed, Deliver us from grief and trouble.

So, it is itself clear from the Vedas that Pashu means Jeeva. And Pashupati is the Lord of all two footed and four footed.

Shiva Purana also states the same. Upamanyu in Vyayavviya Samhita chapter 1 states:

ब्रह्माद्याः स्थावरान्तश्च देवदेवस्य शूलिनः ।
पशवः परिकीर्त्यन्ते संसारवशवर्तिन ।।
तेषां पतित्वाद्देवेशः शिवः पशुपतिः स्मृतः ।

All those from Brahma to all immobiles who are subservient to Shiva are called Pasus. Being their lord, Shiva is called Pashupati.

How Rudra became Pashupati?

Lord Shiva is Pashupati at all times by his own nature as described in Svetasvatara Upanishad 4.13. Rudra is the avatar of Lord Shiva through Brahma. There are various story on how Lord Rudra became Pasupati. Some of them are:

i) Narration in the YajurVeda:

YajurVeda describes how Rudra became Pashupati during Tripura Dahana. Yajurveda 6.2.3 states it as:

तेषामसुराणां तिस्त्रः पुर आसन्नयस्मय्यवमाथ रजताथ हरिणी ता देवा जेतुं नाशक्नुवन्ता उपसदैवाजिगीषन्तस्मादाहुर्यश्चैव वेद यश्च नोपसदा वै महापुरं जयन्तीति त इषु समस्कुर्वताग्निमनीकं सोमं शल्यं विष्णुं तेजनं तेऽब्रुवन्क इमामसिष्यतीति रुद्र इत्यब्रुवन्रुद्रो वै क्रुरः सोऽस्यत्विति सोऽब्रवीद्वरंवृणा अहमेव पशूनामधिपतिरसानीति तस्माद्रुद्र पशूनामधिपतिस्ता रुद्रोऽवासृजत्स तिस्त्रः पुरो भित्वैभ्यो….. [YajurVeda 6.2.3 ]

The Asuras had Tripuras; the lowest was of iron, then there was one of silver, then one of gold. The gods could not conquer them; they sought to conquer them by siege; therefore they say–both those who know thus and those who do not–‘By siege they conquer great citadels.’ They made ready an arrow, Agni as the point, Soma as the socket, Visnu as the shaft. They said, ‘Who shall shoot it?’ ‘Rudra’, they said, ‘Rudra is fierce, let him shoot it.’ He said, ‘Let me choose a boon; let me be overlord of Pashus.’ Therefore is Rudra overlord of Pashus. Rudra let it go; it cleft the Tripuras and drove the Asuras away from these worlds.

ii) Narration in the Shiva Purana and Linga Purana:

Shiva Purana and Linga Purana both narrate the same above story YajurVeda. ie. Rudra being Pashupati during Tripura Samhara. Shiva Purana in Rudra Samhita Yuddha Khanda Chapter 9 and Linga Purana in chapter 72 describes it as:

ततोश्चाश्चोदयामास मनोमारुतरंहसः ।
पुराण्युद्दिश्य खस्थानि दानवानां तरस्विनाम् ।।
अथाह भगवान् रुद्रो देवानालोक्य शकंर ।
पशुनामाधिपत्यं मे दत्तं हन्मि ततोऽसुरान् ।।
पृथक्पशुत्वं देवानां तथान्येषा सुरोत्तमाः ।
कल्पयित्यैव वध्यास्थे नान्यथा नैव सत्तमा ।।
इति श्रुत्वा वचः सर्व देवदेवस्य धीमतः ।
विषादगमनम् सर्वे पशुत्वं प्रति शंकिता ।।

Then the horses which moved with the speed of wind and the mind, were driven in the sky towards the Tripura. Then glancing at the gods, lord Rudra said— “Bestow the lordship of the Pashus on me, after which I shall be able to destroy the Asuras. 0 excellent gods, after giving over the souls of the gods as well as the animals to me, it would be possible to kill the Daityas and not otherwise.” Listening to the words of the learned Shiva, the gods developed a doubt. They were upset with this change and felt disgusted.

Then Lord Shiva tells that their Pasuwato can be removed by performing Pashupata Vrata then all Gods agree:

तथेति चाब्रुवन्देवाः शिवे लोकनमस्कृते ।
तस्माद्वै पशवः सर्वे देवासुरनराः प्रभो ।।
रुद्रः पशुपतिश्चैव पशुपाशविमोचकः ।
यः पशुस्तत्पशुत्त्वं च व्रतेनानेन संत्यजेत् ।।

The Devas then said to Siva who is adored the world over— “It will be done,”. That is why the devas, asuras and human beings are called Pasus. Rudra is the lord of Pasus and the liberator of the Pasus for the bondages. He who is Pasu shall discard that state through this holy rite. The scriptures declare that even after committing the sins, he does not become a sinner.

Actually Tripura Dahana has great Tatwic significance. The Tri Pura represent 3 types of Sharira and the destruction means destruction of illusion and ignorance. So it is necessary to submit the soul to Lord while destroying the ignorance for liberation. So, the concept of Pashupati comes here itself from the Vedas.

iii) Narration in the Varaha Purana:

Varaha Purana narrates a slightly different story on How Rudra became Pashupati. It narrates it in the event of destruction of Daksha Yajna. Varaha Purana in chapter 21 states:

रुद्र उवाचः

भगस्य नेत्र भवतु पूष्णो दन्तास्तथा मुखे ।
दक्षस्याच्छिद्रतां यातु यज्ञश्चाप्यदितेः सुताः ।।
पशुभावं तथा चापि अपनेष्यामि वः सुराः ।
मद्दर्शनेन यो जातः पशुभावो दिवौकताम् ।।
स मायापहृतः सद्य पतित्त्वं वो भविष्यति ।
अहं च सर्वविद्यानां पतिराद्य सनातन ।।
अहं वै पतिभावेन पशु मध्ये व्यवस्थित ।
अतः पशुपतिर्नाम मम लोके भविष्यति ।।
ये मां यजन्ति तेषा स्याद्दिक्षा पाशुपती भवेत् ।
एवमुक्ते तु रुद्रेण ब्रह्मा लोक पितामह ।।

Rudra spoke:

Let Bhaga get back his eye and Pusa his teeth. Let the sacrifice of Daksa also attain completion. At my sight, O! Deva you have all become Pashus to me and I take you all to me. I thus become your master. I am also the embodiment of all knowledge and also your eternal master. Being thus the master of all you Pashus, I will attain the name Pashupati in the world. Those who sacrifice for me will have the observance called Pashupati. When Rudra spoke thus. Brahma told him affectionately with a smile. Certainly you will be hailed as Pashupati in the world, and the world will gain renown by your name. The entire world will surely worship you.

Varaha Purana in Chapter 33 states that Rudra became Pashupati to grant Moksha to the Gods:

देवा उचु:
वेदशास्त्राणी विज्ञानं देहि नो भव मा चिरम् ।
यज्ञश्च सरहस्यो भो यदि तुष्टोऽसि नः प्रभो ।।

Devas said: “Give us, 0 god, the knowledge of the Vedas and Shastras and also the sacrifice and its secret, if you are pleased with us.

महादेव उवाचः
भवन्त पशव सर्वे भवन्तु सहिता इति ।
अहं पतिश्च भवतां ततो मोक्षमवाप्स्यथ ।।
तथेति देवास्तं प्राहुस्ततः पशुपतिर्भवान् ।
ब्रह्मा पशुपति प्राह प्रसन्नेनान्तरात्मना ।।
चतुर्दशी ते देवेश तिथिरस्तु न संशय ।।
तस्या तिथो भवन्तं ये यजन्ति श्रद्धयान्विता ।
उपोष्य भोजनीयास्तु गोधूमान्नेन वै द्विजा ।।
तेषां त्वं तुष्टीमापन्नो देही साथानमनुत्तमम् ।
एवमुक्तस्तथा रुद्रो ब्रह्ण्यव्यक्त जन्मना ।।

Mahadeva Said:
May you all be Pashus and I shall be the Lord of Pashus. Then-by you will attain moksha. The gods agreed and Rudra became Pasupati. Brahma then spoke to Pashupati with great pleasure. “O Rudra, let Caturdashi be the tithi for you. On that day those who worship you fasting, and later take in only wheat food, will get your pleasure and this will lead to their liberation. When thus said by Brahma, Rudra restored to Bhaga, Pushan and Kratu the teeth, eye: and testicles respectively. He gave to Devas all knowledge.

In this way Lord Rudra became Pashupati. The slight variation in story of YajurVeda and Varaha Purana could be due to Kalpa Bheda. ie. Gods change in each Manvantaras and Varaha Purana may have narrated story of specific Kalpa/Manvantara.

Concept of PashuPati:

When we have Pashus (ie. Jeevas) and PashuPati (Lord) then there certainly exists a bond in the Jeevas and that bondage is called Pãsha. When we have animals we bind that animal with a Pãsha (rope) and similarly we (Pashus/Jeevas) are also bind with the Pãsha of Pashupati. So there are three things Pashu (which is Jeeva), Pãsha (which binds) and PashuPati (who is Lord and who can put/remove pãsha). Thus the triad Pati Pashu and Pãsha forms the concept of Pashupati. It is explained in various scriptures, some of them are:

i) As told by Lord himself in Ishwara Gita:

Kurma Purana in Part 2 starts with Ishwara Gita and in the seventh chapter Lord himself states as:

आत्मानः पशव प्रोक्ताः सर्वे संसारवर्तिनः ।
तेषां पतिरहं देवः स्मृतः पशुपतिर्बुधैः ।।
मायापाशेन बहनामि पशूनेतान् स्वलीलया ।
मामेव मोचकं प्राहुः पशुनां वेदवादिन ।।
मायापाशेन बद्धानां मोचकोऽन्यो न विद्यते ।
मामृते परमात्मानं भूताधिपतिमव्ययम् ।।
चतुर्विंशतितत्त्वानि माया कर्म गुणा इति ।
एते पाशाः पशुपते क्लेशाश्च पशुबन्धना ।। (Kurma Purana Ishwara Gita Chapter 7)

All the souls in the world have been equated with Pashus. I happen to be the lord of all of them. Because of this I have been known as Pashupati among the people of learning. I bind the animals with my illusory noose. The people well versed in the Vedas, conceive me as the one who releases them from the bondages. There is none else who could get the persons in bondage released except me, the great soul and the unchanging overlord of the bhutas. The twenty four principles, the Maya, Karma (deeds) and the three gunas, are the nooses of Pashupati, and distresses are the bondages of individual souls.

Thus the Maya, Karma and TriGunas are the Pãshas of Pashupati through which a Jeeva gets binded.

ii) As told by Upamanyu in Shiva Purana:

Sage Upamanyu in the 1st Chapter of Vyayaviya Samhita of Shiva Purana explains this concept as:

श्रीकृष्ण उवाचः
कथं पशुपतिर्देवः पशवः के प्रकीर्तिताः ।
कैः पाशैस्ते निबध्यन्ते विमुच्यन्ते च ते कथम् ।।
इति सञ्चोदितः श्रीमानुपमन्युर्महात्मना ।
प्रणम्य देवं देवीं च प्राह पृष्टो यथा तथा ।।
What type of a god is Pasupati? Who is termed as Pasu. Which are the nooses with which they are bound, and how are they freed.” At these words of Krsna, the sage
Upamanyu felt inspired. He also started giving a reply as he had been asked for.

ब्रह्माद्याः स्थावरान्तश्च देवदेवस्य शूलिनः ।
पशवः परिकीर्त्यन्ते संसारवशवर्तिन ।।
तेषां पतित्वाद्देवेशः शिवः पशुपतिः स्मृतः ।
मलमायादिभिः पाशैः स बध्नाति पशून्पति ।।
स एव मोचकस्तेषां भक्त्या सम्यगुपासितः ।
चतुर्विंशतितत्त्वानि मायाकर्मगुणा अभी ।।
विषया इति कथ्यन्ते पाशा जीवनिबन्धनाः ।
ब्रह्मादिस्तम्बपर्यन्तान् पशून्बध्वा माहेश्वरः ।। (Shiva Purana Vyavayaiya Samhita Chapter 1)

Upamanyu said, “All those from Brahma
to all immobiles who are subservient to Shiva are called Pasus. Being their lord, Siva is called Pashupati. All of them are bound by Shiva by means of dirt or Maya. By adoring the lord with devotion, it is Shiva who gets them freed. The twenty four tatvas are the karmas and the gunas of Maya. They are called Visayas. The Jiva is bound by them. Lord Mahesvara captivates them all, right from Brahma to a pillar.

iii) As told by Shailadi to SanatKumara in Linga Purana:

तैः पाशैर्मोचयत्येकः शिवो जीवैरुपासितः ।
निबध्नाति पशूनेकश्चतुर्विंशतिपाशकैः ।।
स एव भगवान् रुद्रो मोचयत्यपि सेवितः ।
दशेंद्रियमयैः पाशैरंतः करणसंभवै ।।
भूततन्मात्रपाशैश्च पशून्मोचयति प्रभुः ।
आशु भक्ता भवंत्येव परमेश्वरसेवया ।।
भज इत्येष धातुर्वै सेवायां परिकीर्तितः ।
तस्मात्सेवा बुधैः प्रोक्ता भक्तिशब्देन भूयसी ।।
ब्रह्मादिस्तम्बपर्यंत पशून्बध्वा महेश्वर ।। (Linga Purana Uttara Bhaga Chapter 9)

There are twenty four principles which serve as the bonds of Paramesthin. Shiva alone, binds Pashus by means of these bonds. On being worshipped by the Jivas or the individual souls, Shiva alone releases them from the bonds. The same lord on being adored, releases them from the bondages comprising of the ten sense organs, which originate from the inner mind. The lord release the souls from the bonds of tanmatras. The lord binds those who are influenced by the worlds pleasures by means of bonds constituted by the objects of senses. By serving Paramesvara, the souls become devotees, immediately. The root “bhaj’ means service. Thus, the idea of the great service has been brought out by the word Bhakti or devotion. After binding the individual souls from Brahma to the pillat, by means of threefold bonds of the form of gunas, Maheswara himself causes the effect.

Thus the individual Jeeva under ignorance is bound in Pãshas of his one Karmas, Maya of Ishwara, Triguna of Prakirti etc.. Actually Pãshas are of many/ Universal form. The Svetasvatara Upanishad in 1.4 states  “र्विश्वरूपैकपाशं (VishwaikaRupaPãsham)” ie. His Pãsha are of many form.

Removing of Pãsha:

Pãsha means bonds through which Jeevas are bind. When the Jeevas remove the fetter/ Pãsha from them then the soul is Liberated. Thus the rebirth stops when the Jeeva removes the Pãsha. There are various methods through which Jeeva can remove the Pãsha and thus become liberated like:

i) Through the Knowledge of Lord:

By the knowledge of Lord/Brahman all the Pãshas are broken itself and thus the Jeeva is liberated. Shwetashwatara Upanishad 1.8 states:

अनीशश्चात्मा बध्यते भोक्तृ- भावाज् ज्ञात्वा देवं मुच्यते सर्वपाशैः ॥ ८॥
The Jiva again realizes the Supreme Self and is freed from all Pãshas.

Shwetashwatara Upanishad in 1.11 states:

ज्ञात्वा देवं सर्वपाशापहानिः
क्षीणैः वलेशेर्जन्ममृत्युप्रहाणिः ।
When the Lord is known all Pãshas fall off; with the cessation of miseries, birth and death come to an end.

Shwetashwatara Upanishad in 4.15 states:

यस्मिन् युक्ता ब्रह्मर्षयो देवताश्च
           तमेवं ज्ञात्वा मृत्युपाशांश्छिनत्ति ॥ १५॥
In whom the sages and the deities are united. Verily, by knowing Him one cuts asunder the Pãshas of death.

Shwetashwatara Upanishad in 6.13 states:

तत्कारणं सांख्ययोगाधिगम्यं
               ज्ञात्वा देवं मुच्यते सर्वपाशैः ॥ १३॥
He who has known Him, the luminous Lord, the Great Cause, to be realised by Knowledge (Samkhya) and yoga, is freed from all Pãshas.

Shwetashwatara Upanishad in 4.16 states:

घृतात् परं मण्डमिवातिसूक्ष्मं
           ज्ञात्वा शिवं सर्वभूतेषु गूढम् ।
विश्वस्यैकं परिवेष्टितारं
           ज्ञात्वा देवं मुच्यते सर्वपाशैः ॥ १६॥

He who knows Brahman, who is Shiva, extremely subtle, like the film that rises to the surface of clarified butter and is hidden in all beings−he who knows the radiant Deity, the sole Pervader of the universe, is released from all his Pãshas.

Thus the Vedas itself repeat again and again that knowing the Lord one is freed from all Pãshas.

ii) Through the worship of Lord:

Vedas also recommend to worship the three eyed lord (Trayambaka) so that Bandhan (which are actually Pãshas) are removed and one gets Immortality/Liberation. RigVeda 7.59.12, Taittariya Samhita of YajurVeda in 1.8.6.i, Vajasena Samhita of YajurVeda in 3.60 state the same thing as:

त्र्यम्बकं यजामहे सुगन्धिं पुष्टिवर्धनम्
उर्वारुकमिव बन्धनान्मृत्योर्मुक्षीय माऽमृतात् ।।

We worship the Three-eyed Lord who is fragrant and who nourishes and nurtures all beings. As is the ripened cucumber freed from its bondage (to the creeper), may He liberate us from death for the sake of immortality.

Here it is stating “Trayambakam Yajamahe” which means “We worship Trayambaka”, and it is stating to remove bondage “Bandhanan” which is actually Paasha and it is for Immortality/Moksha. Svetasvatara Upanishad in 6.5 states;

आदिः स संयोगनिमित्तहेतुः
             परस्त्रिकालादकलोऽपि दृष्टः ।
तं विश्वरूपं भवभूतमीड्यं
             देवं स्वचित्तस्थमुपास्य पूर्वम् ॥ ५॥

The Great Lord is the beginning, the cause which unites the soul with the body; He is above the three kinds of time and is seen to be without parts. After having worshipped that adorable God dwelling in the heart, who is of many forms and is the true source of all things, man attains final Liberation.

And Lord Shiva graces on all those who worship him and as he is PashuPati he removes the Pãshas of Jeevas. Similar there are also some special places when Lord is worshipped or realized in certain places like Varanasi one is liberated.

iii) Through the refugee on Lord:

Vedas also recommend to take refugee on Lord Rudra so that the Pãshas of Jeeva are broken and Jeeva attains liberation. Actually  Shwetashwatara Upanishad states there are very rare souls which take refugee in the Lord:

अजात इत्येवं कश्चिद्भीरुः प्रपद्यते ।
रुद्र यत्ते दक्षिणं मुखं तेन मां पाहि नित्यम् ॥ २१॥

It is because Thou, O Lord, art birthless, that some rare souls, frightened by birth and death, take refuge in Thee. O Rudra, may Thy south facing face protect me for ever!

Similarly there are Veda mantras which invoke Lord Shiva as refugee so that they can pass cycles of birth and death. For eg. In YajurVeda

सद्योजातं प्रपद्यामि सद्योजाताय वै नमो नमः ।
भवे भवे नातिभवे भवस्व माम् । भवोद्भवाय नमः ॥  (YajurVeda Taittariya Aranyaka 10.17.1)

I take refuge in Sadyojata. Verily I salute Sadyojata again and again. O Sadyojata, do not consign me to repeated birth; lead me beyond birth, into the state of bliss and liberation. I bow down to Him who is the source of transmigratory existence.

Lord Shiva himself also suggests to abandon all Dharmas and take refugee on him:

सर्वधर्मान्परित्यज्य मामेकं शरणं व्रज ॥ ४३॥
अहं त्वा सर्वपापेभ्यो मोक्षयिष्यामि मा शुचः ।

Abandon all varieties of dharmas and simply surrender unto me alone. I shall liberate you from all sinful reactions; do not fear.

iv) Through the special rite of Pashupata Vrata:

Vedas also again hint of a special rite of Pashupat Vratam which is capable of removing Pãshas of Pashu. The Atharvasiras states:

अग्निरिति भस्म वायुरिति भस्म जलमिति भस्म स्थलमिति भस्म व्योमेति भस्म सर्वंह वा इदं भस्म मन एतानि
चक्षूंषि यस्माद्व्रतमिदं पाशुपतं यद्भस्म नाङ्गानि
संस्पृशेत्तस्माद्ब्रह्म तदेतत्पाशुपतं पशुपाश
विमोक्षणाय ॥ ५॥

He converts fire, air, water, earth, ether and everything that eexists here in to ash. He who sees this and mentally realizes it and observes the “penance to Pashupati ” and who coats ash all over his body with this ash attains the state of Brahman. By worshipping “Pasupathi” like this, the ties of bondage of all beings get cut and they attain salvation.

Here, the penance to Pashupati means a special rite called Pashupata Vratam which is capable of removing the Pãsha of the Jeeva. Actually this method ie. Performing Pashupat Vrata is very highly emphasized in Linga Purana and Shiva Purana. For eg. In the Tripura Dahana event also Shiva tells that they can remove their Pashutwo (Pãsha) by performing Pashupat Vratam:

तेषां भावं ततो ज्ञात्वा देवस्तानिदमब्रवीत् ।
मा वोस्तु पशुभावेस्मिन् भयं विबुधसत्तमा ।।
श्रूयतां पशुभावस्य विमोक्षः क्रियतां च सः ।
यो वै पाशुपतं दिव्यं चरिष्यति स मोक्षतिः ।।
पशुत्वादिति सत्यं च प्रतिज्ञातं समाहिता ।
ये चाप्यन्ते चरिष्यंति व्रतं पाशुपतं मम ।।
मोक्ष्यंति ते न संदेहः पशुत्वात्सुरसत्तमा ।
नैष्ठिकं द्वादशाब्दं वा तदर्धं वर्षकत्रयम् ।।
शुश्रूषां कारयेद्यस्तु स पशुत्वाद्विमुच्यते ।
तस्मात्परामिदं दिव्यं चरिष्यथ सुरोत्तमा ।। [Linga Purana chapter 72]

Realising about the state of their minds, Shiva spoke— “O excellent gods, you should not be afraid of becoming Pashu. You listen to the redemption of the Pashubhava and act accordingly. A person who will perform the Pashupatvrata, he would be relieved of the position of Pasu, He would achieve the greatest goal. O pure ones, I solemnly promise this to  you. O excellent Devas, there is no doubt in this and those others too who perform the Pasupata rite will be liberated from the state of being a Pasu. He who renders service steadily for twelve years or even half of the period or even for three years, can be liberated from that state. Hence, 0 excellent Devas, perform this great and divine Vrata.

Similarly in the Linga Purana chapter 108 “Glory of the Pasupat Vrata” ; it is stated;

अध्रुवेण शरिरेण ध्रुवं साध्यं प्रयत्नतः ।
भव्यं पाशुपतं नित्यं संसारार्णवतारकम्  ।।

One should make all the earnest efforts to achieve the fixed goal through his physical body that is uncertain and unfixed. The excellent, eternal Pashupat Vrata is the cause of redemption from the worldly existence.

Thus the auspicious Pashupatvrata is capable of removing the Pãsha of Pashu and thus enabling liberation. For methods how to perform Pashupatvrat one can refer to Linga Purana Uttara Bhaga Chapter 18 “The Auspicious Pasupat Vrata”.

Origin of Pashu:

Now, here comes an interesting concept, who actually are the Pashus? Actually PashuPati himself is in the form of Pashu. Shwetashwatara Upanishad in 1.8 states:

संयुक्तमेतत् क्षरमक्षरं च
      व्यक्ताव्यक्तं भरते विश्वमीशः ।
अनीशश्चात्मा बध्यते भोक्तृ-
      भावाज् ज्ञात्वा देवं मुच्यते सर्वपाशैः ॥ ८॥

The Lord, Isa, supports all this which has been joined together−the perishable and the imperishable, the manifest, the effect and the unmanifest, the cause. The same Lord, the Supreme Self, devoid of Lordship, becomes bound because of assuming the attitude of the enjoyer. The Jiva again realizes the Supreme Self and is freed from all Pashas.

So, the Supreme Lord binds himself (in the Pãshas) and becomes Pashu/Jeeva because of assuming the attitude of enjoyer. That Jeeva/Pashu again is freed from Pashas on realizing the Supreme Self. It is the Leela of the Lord.

The Kularnava Tantra says:

The body itself is the temple. The jiva itself is God Sadashiva Do away with the faded petals of Ignorance and worship with the Consciousness of ‘He am I ‘ . Jiva is Shiva; Shiva is jiva; the jiva pure is Shiva. When in bonds it is jiva; freed from bonds it is Sadashiva. Enclosed in husk it is paddy; freed from husk it is rice. Enclosed in karma it is jiva; freed from karma it is Sadashiva.

So,the import of the above passage is that, all bonded Jivas are Pashus but when they are free from the bondage(Pasha), then they are none other than the supreme Sadashiva himself.

On what is a Pashu ,which are the Pashas and who removes the Pasha from the Pashu?

According to Mahanirvana Tantra & other Tantra texts:

The term pashu comes from the root pash, “to bind.” The pashu is, in fact, the man who is bound by the bonds (pasha), of which the Kularnava Tantra enurnerates eight – namely, pity (daya), ignorance and delusion (moha), fear (bhaya), shame (lajja), disgust (ghrina), family (kula), custom (shila), and caste (varna)…. The pashu is also the worldly man, in ignorance and bondage, as opposed to the yogi and the tattva-jnani. Three divisions of pashsu are also spoken of – namely, sakala, who are bound by the three pasha, called anu (want of knowledge or erroneous knowledge of the self), bheda (the division also induced by maya of the one self into many), and karmma (action and its product. These are the three impurities (mala) called anava-mala, maya-mala, and Karmma-mala. Pratayakala are those bound by the first and last, and Vijnana-kevala are those bound by anava-mala only. He who frees himself of the remaining impurity of anu becomes Shiva Himself. The Devi bears the pasha, and is the cause of them, but She, too, is pashupashavimochini, Liberatrix of the pashu from his bondage.

Mahanirvana Tantra & other Tantra texts

Definition of a Father in Hindu Scriptures

Father is one of the most important figures for anyone. Especially within the Hindu traditions, he’s accorded an almost divine status, especially for his Child. There can be many definitions of as to who, what, in which situation or how, any person constitute or can be called as “Father – Pitā ( पिता )”

The more common term one might encounter used for father, is Pitṛ (पितृ) – but that is not just limited in terms of meaning to the sense of “father”. Therefore, We are posting here a more generic list of “definition & qualities” of father from major canonical texts.

Definition 1: From the Vedanga based ‘Nirukta’ by Yāskācārya

Yāska basically gives two definitions or etymology for the word in the Nirukta:

1. Nirukta 4.21 & 6.15:

” पिता पाता वा पालयिता वा; नि पिता-गोपिता “

” pitā pātā vā pālayitā vā; ni pitā-gopitā –

The one who sustains, nourishes and protects is thus known as Pitā (father).

2. Alternative definition from Shabda-Kalpa-Druma Sanskrit Dictionary:

Pitā is derived from the root ” ‘pā rakṣaṇe’ (पा रक्षणे)”.

Therefore, the etymology thus derived as:

“yaḥ pāti sa pitā – यः पाति स पिता” (or)

“pāti rakṣati iti pitā – पाति रक्षति इति पिता” (or)

” pāti rakṣatyapayaṃ yaḥ sa pitā – पाति रक्षत्यपयं यः स पिता ।”

i.e., The one who ‘protects’ is known as Pitā (father).

According to the Nirukta – a father (Pitā) is someone Who Protects, Sustains & Nourishes.

Definition 2: From the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa

In the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, Book IV: Kiṣkindhā Kāṇḍa – The Empire of Holy Monkeys: Chapter 18,
Śhrī Rāma himself explains to Vāli – who is to be called as a “Father – Pitā

ज्येष्ठो भ्राता पिता चैव यः च विद्याम् प्रयच्छति |
त्रयः ते पितरो ज्ञेया धर्मे च पथि वर्तिनः || ४-१८-१३ ||

jyeṣṭho bhrātā pitā caiva yaḥ ca vidyām prayacchati |
trayaḥ te pitaro jñeyā dharme ca pathi vartinaḥ || 4-18-13 ||

It is to be known by him who treads the way of righteousness that he has three fatherly personages, namely his own father, his elder brother, and the one who accords education to him. [4-18-13]

यवीयान् आत्मनः पुत्रः शिष्यः च अपि गुणोदितः |
पुत्रवत् ते त्रयः चिंत्या धर्मः चैव अत्र कारणम् || ४-१८-१४ ||

yavīyān ātmanaḥ putraḥ śiṣyaḥ ca api guṇoditaḥ |
putravat te trayaḥ ciṃtyā dharmaḥ caiva atra kāraṇam || 4-18-14 ||

An younger brother, a son, and a disciple with good characteristics, these three are to be deemed as one’s own sons, for such matters take base on rectitude alone. [4-18-14]

Therefore according to the Rāmāyaṇa, reconciling the above two verses – 13 & 14, conclusions are reached, scripturally: the Elder brother, the Biological father & the teacher (Ācārya) for a person are all to be equivalent to Pitā (पिता).

Definition 3: From the Mahābhārata

In the Adi Parva (1.93.25) of the Mahābhārata, we again get three types of people qualified to be called Pitā, as per Ṛṣi Kaṇva:

शरीरकृत् प्राणदाता यस्य चान्नानि भुंजते ।
क्रमेणैते त्रयोऽप्युक्ताः पितरो धर्मशासने ।। २५ ।।

śarīrakṛt prāṇadātā yasya cānnāni bhuṃjate ।
krameṇaite trayo’pyuktāḥ pitaro dharmaśāsane ।। 25 ।।

First, the one who contributes to our body be conceived via the garbhādhāna saṃskāra, Second, the one who has saved our lives or protect us (abhayadānam), and Third, the one who provides for our food and necessities – all these three as designated to be called as Father – Pitā.

Bhīṣma gives Yudhiṣṭhira the exact same definition as above in the Anuśāsana Parva: Chapter 69:

यश्चैवमुत्पादयते यश्चैनं त्रायते भयात ।
यश्चास्य कुरूते वृत्तिं सर्वे ते पितरस्त्रय: ।। १८ ।।

yaścaivamutpādayate yaścainaṃ trāyate bhayāta ।
yaścāsya kurūte vṛttiṃ sarve te pitarastraya: ।। 18 ।।

He who procreates a person, he who rescues a person, and he who assign a means of livelihood to a person, are considered as the three fathers.

Thus, according to the Mahābhārata – one’s own biological progenitor, the one who Protects, and the one who Sustains – these three are to be called Pitā.

Definition 4: From the Brahmavaivarta Purāṇa

In the Chapter 10: Jāti-Sambandhaṃ-Nirṇayo from the Section I: Brahma Khaṇḍa in the the Brahmavaivarta Purāṇa, we get another definition on the above similar lines:

श्यालीपतिस्तु भ्राता च श्वशुरैकत्वहेतुना ।
श्वशुरस्तु पिता ज्ञेयोजन्मदातुः समो मुने ॥ १५२ ॥

śyālīpatistu bhrātā ca śvaśuraikatvahetunā ।
śvaśurastu pitā jñeyo janmadātuḥ samo mune ॥ 152 ॥

The father-in-Law of one’s own sister and that of one’s Sister-in-Law – both are equivalent to be treated as one’s own “Father (Pitā)”.

अन्नदाता भयत्राता पत्नीतातस्तथैव च ।
विद्यादाता जन्मदाता पञ्चैते पितरो नृणाम् ॥ १५३ ॥

annadātā bhayatrātā patnītātastathaiva ca ।
vidyādātā janmadātā pañcaite pitaro nṛṇām ॥ 153 ॥

The one who gives birth (biological father), the one who provides food (Sustains), the one who releives from danger (gives Protection), one’s Wife’s Father, and the one who imparts knowledge (Guru or Ācārya) – each one amongst the five of these is worthy of being called a father – (*Pitā/Pitṛ)”.

According to Brahmavaivarta Purāṇa – one’s biological father, the Sustainer-Nourisher, the Protector, ones’ Teacher, the father of Wife, the Father-in-Law of both sister and sister-in-law are to be accorded the status of a “father (Pitā)”.

Definition 5: From the Manusmṛti

Manusmṛti [ Verse 2.146 ], gives a more situation-based “exhaustive” definition for the word – Pitā (पिता), especially in reference to a dvija:

उत्पादकब्रह्मदात्रोर्गरीयान् ब्रह्मदः पिता ।
ब्रह्मजन्म हि विप्रस्य प्रेत्य चैह च शाश्वतम् ॥ १४६ ॥

utpādakabrahmadātrorgarīyān brahmadaḥ pitā |
brahmajanma hi viprasya pretya caiha ca śāśvatam || 146 ||

Between the progenitor and the imparter of the veda, the imparter op the veda is the more venerable father; for the brāhmaṇa’s “birth” is the veda, eternally,—here as well as after death.—(146)

Thus, both the biological father and the imparter of the knowledge of the Veda (one’s ‘Āchārya’) are to be referred to and considered as Pitā (पिता). However, the situation varies, as Medhātithi explains in his Manubhāṣya:

Medhātithi’s commentary (manubhāṣya):

‘Progenitor’—is one who gives natural birth; ‘Imparter of the Veda’ is one who teaches;—both these are ‘fathers’; and between these two ‘fathers,’ that Father is ‘more venerable’ who imparts the Veda. So that when the Father and the Preceptor are both present, the Preceptor should be saluted first.

The text adds a valedictory statement in support of what has been said—‘The Brāhmaṇa’s birth is the Veda’; i.e., is for the purpose of learning the Veda;

According to the Manusmṛti:

5(a). Thus, the one who’s responsible for our physical birth is to be taken in the material sense of being as a Pitā, i.e, a progenitor who gives a Natural birth is the ‘Bhautika or Sāṃsārika Pitā’.

5(b). However, for a “Dvija”, i.e., the twice-born, it’s the ‘Āchārya’ who initiates them into the knowledge of Vedas, which is what actually constitutes their “second-birth”. Therefore, in the Spiritual & Metaphysical perspective, an ‘Āchārya’ is the pita i.e, ‘Imparter of the Veda’ i.e., one’s ‘Āchārya’ – may be called as the ‘Ādhyātmika or Brahmavid Pitā’.

Parvati, Ganesh and Kartikey

Definition 6: From the Chāṇakya Nīti

As per Chāṇakya Nīti:

जनिता चोपनेता च, यस्तु विद्यां प्रयच्छति ||
अन्नदाता भयत्राता, पंचैते पितरः स्मृताः || ०५-२२ ||

janitā copanetā ca, yastu vidyāṃ prayacchati ||
annadātā bhayatrātā, paṃcaite pitaraḥ smṛtāḥ || 05-22 ||

These five have been ordained to be called as Pitā – the biological father, the one who initiates into the Vedas, the one who imparts Education, the one who provides food and necessities, and the one who Protects i.e, ‘Pālanahāra ( पालनहार )’.

One’s biological progenitor, Vedic rites initiator, Teacher (Guru), and the Sustainer and the Protector – these five are designated as the status of Pitā ( पिता ).

Definition 7: From the “Historical” Etymological Perspective:

The occurrence of the word ‘Pitā’ is rare in the Vedic literature, however, the word Pitṛ is encountered several times, albeit with myriad etymological connotations.

In their work: Vedic Index of Names and Subjects [by Macdonell, Arthur Anthony, 1854-1930; Keith, Arthur Berriedale, 1879-1944], the authors have given the following analysis, noting the following (wrt. words based on ‘pa -Pitṛ’ roots):

  • Pita-putra, ‘father and son,’ is a compound of rare occurrence.
  • Pita-putriya (‘relating to father and son’),
  • Pita-maha, beside Tatamaha, denotes from the Atharvaveda onwards the ‘paternal grandfather,’ apparently as a ‘ father in a higher sense.’ The great-grandfather is Prapitamaha and Pratatamaha.
  • It is significant that there are no corresponding Vedic words for maternal grandparents, and that the words used in the latter
    language, such as Matamaha, are imitations of the terms for paternal relations.*
  • In one passage of the Rigveda Delbriick suggests that make pitre means ‘ grandfather,’
  • The grandmother (Pitamahi) is not mentioned in the extant Vedic literature.
  • Pitu:
    Pitu in the Rigveda 1 and later 2 has the general sense of nutriment,’ whether food or drink.
  • Pitr,
    common from the Rigveda onwards, denotes ‘father,’ not so much as the ‘ begetter ‘ (janitr/janitā), but rather as the protector of the child, this being probably also the etymological sense of the word.
  • The father in the Rigveda stands for all that is good and kind. Hence Agni is compared with a father, while Indra is even dearer than a father.
  • ‘Pitā = janitā (जनिता) – is used of gods in the Rigveda e.g., iv. 17, 12.
  • (An etymological classification for janitā can also be accessed from here)
  • As derived from ‘pa’ – ‘प’ = ‘protect.’
  • But, as Bohtlingk and Roth, St.Peters- burg Dictionary, s.v. Matar, footnote, suggest, ‘pa’ and ‘ma’ were probably the much older original onomatopoetic names for ‘father ‘ and ‘ mother,’ which in a later reflective age influenced the formation of ‘pitr’ and ‘matr’.

Thus in the Vedic literature, there doesn’t seem to be much “definition” given for Pitā. The word used mostly is Pitṛ, which changes connotations as per convenience. The basic definition for Pitā might be eschewed as – The Protector, the dearest of all (or Gods), the Nourisher/Sustainer.


Thus, basis the above discussion we conclude that for a person, anyone from the below list is worthy of being referred to as a “Father – Pitā ( पिता )”:

  1. One’s biological procreator.
  2. The one who initiates into Vedas via Upanayana (for a “dvija”).
  3. One’s Teacher/Ācārya/Guru – Spiritual Father.
  4. One’s Elder Brother i.e., the Jyeṣṭha.
  5. Wife’s father – ones’ Father-in-Law.
  6. The one who gives Protection or gives Abhayadāna.
  7. The one who saved one’s life.
  8. The one who Sustains & Nourishes.
  9. The Father-in-law of both – one’s own Sister & the Sister-in-Law.

Source : Based on Answer of user “ChandAl” at Hinduism SE.

Goddess Sarasvatī : Goddess of River transformed into the Goddess of Knowledge

This article is written by Astrologer Amritendu Mukhopadhyay.

Goddess Sarasvatī is one of the few Vedic Goddesses who is still worshipped widely. She is the Goddess of knowledge, art and culture.

We first find her name in the Ṛg Vedas (Samhitā). She was the personification of the river Sarasvatī. River Sarasvatī was the most sacred river in the entire Āryāvarta. It used to flow from the Himalayas to the Arabian sea. Vedic sacrifices used to take place on the bank of this river. The heart of Āryāvarta was known as Brahmāvarta (modern-day Kurukshetra). It was the land between the river Sarasvatī and one of its tributary known as Dṛṣadvatī.

There are three Suktas in Ṛg Veda dedicated to Sarasvatī (VI.61, VII.95, VII.96). Besides that, numerous individual Ślokas mention her (For example, I.3.10-12, II.41.16). From those descriptions, we understand that it was indeed a mighty river.

iyaṁ śuṣmebhir bisakhā ivārujat sānu girīṇāṁ taviṣebhir ūrmibhiḥ

“With enraged snortings, like one who digs up lotus roots, this one broke the back of mountains with her strong waves.” – VI.61.2

However, something interesting happened in the age of Brāhmaṇas. The river Goddess transformed into the Goddess of speech. There she was identified as Vāgdevī. Phrases such as “Vāg Vai Sarasvatī” or “Vāg Eva Sarasvatī” were frequently used. These phrases emphasize the oneness of the meaning of the two words. For example, in Jaiminīya Brāhmaṇa, there is the following passage –

“Sarasvatyā upamajjane dīkṣā; dakṣine tīre dīkṣānte/… Sarasvatyā yanti, Vāg vai Sarasvatī.”

(Their initiation is done after the completion of bath in the Sarasvatī, which is taken on the right bank after the initiation ceremony. They approach Sarasvatī. Sarasvatī is indeed speech.)

The story of this transformation is fascinating. There was a separate deity known as Vāc in Ṛg Veda. She was mentioned in only one Sukta – the Devīsukta (X.125). It is a very famous Sukta because it contains the seed of Sākta tradition that flourished later. Anyway, Vāc was the presiding deity of speech.

Now the question that intrigues us, why these two deities got merged. There are many theories. But the two most fundamental reasons are as follows:

  1. Though Vāc was the separate deity for speech, Sarasvatī was associated with dhī or intellect in Ṛg Veda itself (VI.61.4 “Dhīnāmavitryavatu”). She was described as the helper of visionary thoughts. Intellect is the prerequisite of speech. That’s how later, Sarasvatī got identified with speech.
  2. There is a geographic factor as well. I mentioned before that Vedic sacrifices used to take place on the bank of Sarasvatī. As the utterance of sacred Mantras used to take place on this riverbank, it definitely helped. That’s how the features of Vāc got superimposed on Sarasvatī.

In the age of the Mahābhārata, Sarasvatī directly became the Goddess of knowledge. This is not because she is identified with Vāc; she no longer needs the mediation of Vāc. Now she presides over knowledge directly. In Mahābhārata (12.326.5), Nārāyaṇa says to sage Nārada:

“Behold Goddess Sarasvatī, the mother of the Vedas, established in me

(vedānāṃ mātaraṃ paśya matsthāṃ devīm sarasvatīm).”

Thus gradually, Vāc lost in oblivion; and Sarasvati became the prominent deity. This is the final step in the identification process.

In Mahābhārata (12.330.10), Sarasvatī is described as the daughter of Brahmā. In the Purana, she also becomes his consort.

One of the epithets of Sarasvatī is Bhāratī. Puṣpānjali mantra of Devī Sarasvatī mentions her as Bhārati (“bhagavatī bhāratī devī namaste”). Again Bhāratī was a separate deity in the Ṛg Veda. The triad of three deities Bhāratī, Iḷā/Iḍā and Sarasvatī, usually was invoked together in sacrifices. Later Bhāratī got merged with Sarasvatī. Probably this merger happened because Bhāratī was also identified with Vāc in Bṛhaddevatā (5.101, 3.12).

Let me end this article with an ancient prayer to the Goddess from the Vedas –

अम्बितमे नदीतमे देवितमे सरस्वति। अप्रशस्ता इव स्मसि प्रशस्तिमम्ब नस्कृधि॥

(Ambitame nadītame devitame sarasvati/ apraśastā iva smasi praśastimamba naskṛdhi)

(O best mother, best river, best Goddess Sarasvatī- we are like ones unlauded: make a laud for us mother) Ṛg Veda II.41.16

Written by Astrologer Amritendu Mukhopadhyay


  1. Sarasvatī – riverine Goddess of knowledge by Catherine Ludvik
  2. Concept of Sarasvatī in Vedic Literature by Raghunath Airi
  3. Pūṣan and Sarasvatī by J. Gonda

Primer on Shaivism in Kashmir

This article was submitted by @world_sanatan. Follow them on twitter!

Kashmir has been the cradle of Saivism. Kashmir Shaivism is called Trika philosophy. Trika means threefold science of man and his world.

This Trika contains the science of individual(Nara) , शक्ति (the energy) and शिव (the Universal)

The purpose of Trika is to show how an individual rises to the state of universal (शिव) through energy (शक्ति). The Trika philosophy is classified by Abhinavagupta in four system which are

  1. Karma system
  2. Spanda system
  3. Kula system
  4. Pratyabijnya system

1.Karma: Abhinavagupta says that Karma deals with space and time. He explains that actually there is no space. When one deals with forms, the space appears. When one is established in formless state of being, for him there is no space. In the same way when there is something to be done, then only the existence of time shines and when you have nothing to do, then time has no existence.

2. Spanda: Abhinavagupta says that it is that movement which actually is no movement. Spanda makes us realise that whatever is in movement actually is established in unmoved point. So although everything seems moving actually it is not moving at all.

3. Kula: As for the Kula system, he says that Kula means the Science of Totality. In each and every part of the universe totality shines throughout. Take a small part of any object. In that part you will see the universal energy existing.

4.Pratyabijnya: The Pratyabhijnya system deals with the school of recognition.
‘प्रत्यभिज्ञा च भातभासमानानुसं वानात्मिका’
To make it clear, he explains that at the time of God-realization nothing new is realised; on the contrary, the Yogi feels that this state of God-consciousness which he was experiencing was already known to him.


Acharya Abhinavgupta

Abhinavgupta was one of the most outstanding Acharyas of the Shaiva Philosophy. We leam from references about him in Tantraloka and Paratrimshika Vivarana that he lived in Kashmir about the end of the tenth and the beginning of eleventh century. He was one of the best authorities on Shaiva philosophy and various branches of Sanskrit literature. The great Acharya sat at the feet of many teachers for the traditional and authoritative knowledge. Such was his humility and devotion that these teachers imparted to him all the learning they possessed. The celebrated author of Kavya Prakash Rajanaka Mammatta calls him the Shankaracharya of Kashmir.

The earliest ancestor of Abhinavagupta was a famous Brahmin, Attrigupta, who lived in Autarvedi, the ancient name of a tract of land lying between the Ganga and the Yamuna. Attrigupta, a great Shaiva teacher, was invited by King Lalitaditya, who ruled over Kashmir from 700-736 A.D. A spacious house was soon built by the orders of the king on the banks of the Jhelum (Vitasta) for Attrigupta and a big Jagir was granted to him for his maintenance. Many generations after him, one of his descendants, named Varahagupta, became a great scholar of Shaiva philosophy.

All the eight yogic powers were possessed by Acharya Abhinavagupta.

This article was submitted by @world_sanatan.

How do I find the right Guru?

श्री गुरुवे नमः

This is one of the most asked question in last one year since we started Hindu Media Wiki.

The traditions of Sanatana Hindu Dharma is very specific on the definition of Sanskrit terms like Guru, Sadguru and Avatar etc. (Currently all these 3 words are used often misused / misappropriated / distorted).

It is very difficult to figure out if the being is God realized, if so to what extent by ordinary persons. There are some aspects that can be tested by ordinary beings and some can be tested by enlightened being and some that can be tested only by Avatars.

For eg: Only an Avatar can recognize another avatar.

A Guru by definition has to be enlightened, else he/she is an acharya.

A Guru is capable to “designing” a specific path for a disciple based on his/her tattvas and gunas. And there is a very specific method to evaluate the Guru based on

  1. Shastra Pramana;
  2. Apta Pramana;
  3. Atma Pramanas; and
  4. Shakshi Pramana
  1. ShastraPramana: The original scriptures of the tradition of the Guru parampara. Are the teachings and claims made by Guru backed by Shastras ? How integrated the Guru is to those Shastras? Are the disciples encourages to read and follow those original scriptures?
  2. Apta Pramana: If the Shastras work then there must be other Gurus i.e. realized masters in the present and past who would have “realized” the experience mentioned in Shastras and would have written commentaries based on their self-realization. (Think of them like experiments that have been replicated by other “experts” based on the original publication (shastras))
  3. Atma Pramana: The self-experience of the Guru itself. Are they in sync with the Apta Pramana and Shastra Pramana i.e. Is Guru able to replicate the results specified by Shastras and do they correlate the results with other publications?
  4. Sakshi Pramana: The experience of disciple itself. Can the experience of disciple itself conform to the results recorded as the result of ShastraPramana, AptaPramana, and AtmaPramana.

This system is a very vigorous system of evaluation. It is often very very difficult to find a Guru who passes the 4 parameters listed above. But if you find one who passes on all counts immediately go to him/her.

Till one finds such a Guru it’s best to follow an Acharya who is integrated to Shastras. Every Kriya suggested by the Acharya has to be backed up the “Shastra” and insist on producing the original Sanskrit verse.

For eg, if one has to bend the body in a certain way for Yoga it has to be based on the original Sanskrit verse. If one has to put certain material into Homa, it has to be specified in the Sanskrit verse.

Thankfully, there are many traditional Acharyas who follow the Shastras and more than glad to produce the original Shastras.

Even among Gurus, there are different Gurus who can “transmit” different areas of Shastras. When the Guru thinks the disciple is ready and has nothing more to add then Guru sends the disciple to the “next” Guru. This process goes on till the disciple is sent to the Sathguru. (Sathguru, as per Shastras, is a very specific Sanskrit term)

As per the scriptures, a right guru must be fulfilling two important qualities:

  1. Srotriya : He must be well versed in all the sashtras, i.e. Vedas, Puranas, Philosophies, etc. (master in theory)
  2. Brahmanistha: He must himself have realized God and stays fixed in Him. (master in practice)

So the scriptures say as below:

tad vijñānārthaṃ sa gurum evābhigacchet samit-pāṇiḥ śrotriyam brahma-niṣṭham [Mund. Up. – 1.2.12]

-To know That (God) he (the seeker) goes to a guru who is well versed in scriptures and situated in Brahman (God realized) .

tasmād guruṃ prapadyeta jijñāsuḥ śreya uttamam
śābde pare ca niṣṇātaṃ brahmaṇyupaśamāśrayam
 [SB – 11.3.21]

Therefore, the seeker approaches a good and noble guru who is skillful in the knowledge of the scriptures and the supreme and who having taken the shelter of Brahma stays satisfied in Him.

After following a guru for few years if you find you are not improving or he is not the right person, then the only thing you should do is to stop following him and without any ill feelings towards him, just try to find someone else.

Technically one can do a lot of things after he finds himself cheated or a prey to the media hype, but he should focus upon continuing his development rather than getting revenge minded and focusing on someone else’s ruin. Those negative feelings will only degrade him further instead of helping him move up.

Finding guru is actually a subjective thing. Even while one guru may work for a seeker, he may not be good for another one. And again, how would you know if he is God realized? Any one may show some cheap miracle or some spiritual power and can act as a guru.

So it is generally said that it is not the student who finds the guru, it is the guru who finds the student. For example, Vivekananda first didn’t accept Ramakrishna as his guru, even he mocked him. But later upon more interaction he felt his divinity and accepted as guru.

So without properly analyzing it is very hard to find out who is a true guru and who is not. It is because true saints even act opposite to their nature sometimes. So from my experience I would say if one has faith in God and genuine interest, then eventually he will find the right guru even if he falls prey to others many times.

On changing of Guru

The thing about changing guru is that, it should be done only when its necessary and required. So I said one can change guru when he is not finding any improvement after following him.

Because not all gurus are perfect or of the same caliber and qualification, one may not find perfection by following only one guru. So the scripture says knowledge cannot be stable through one guru alone:

na hyekasmādgurorjñānaṃ susthiraṃ syātsupuṣkalam [SB -11.9.31]
– Not through one guru knowledge becomes steady and complete.

There are also real life examples when a guru sends his disciple to someone else for further improvements. Also the other thing is that, one guru may be perfect in yoga but doesn’t know about devotion. So a student have to change his guru if he wants to learn devotion, knowledge or something else like it.

So there is provision for changing guru. But only when it is necessary and required. If one finds a guru who is perfect and satisfies the above mentioned two conditions, there is no reason for someone to change guru. Moreover, in that case changing guru will break ananyata (complete surrender to only one) and the student cannot proceed further.

So your saying that a guru cannot be changed is right and true, but only when one has accepted the guru as one’s true master and the guru also has accepted him as his dear disciple. In those cases, the guru and disciple become one soul in two bodies. Guru and shisya relationship is the most noble, divine and pure of all. It is one bond that never breaks. So before one has found his true guru, he can change many others. But once he has found him, there is no change.


This is from Kularnav Tantra about characteristics of Kaula guru, but it can still help in identifying real Guru. The characteristics of a true Guru is told by Lord Shiva. It is as follow:

“O Paramesani! And the Guru himself, is one who is clean of apparel;

charming; endowed with all features;

perfect limbed;

knowing the truth of all Agamas, the application of all Mantras;

bewitching the world;

sweet looking like a god; happy countenance, easy of access;


He is the one who dissipates delusion and doubt;

Knows the meaning of gestures;

Who is wise and knows the pros and cons;

Whose attention is directed within though the look is outward;

Who knows all;

Knows place and time;

In whose command lies Siddhi(fulfilment);

Knows the past, present and future;

Capable of check and sanction;

Capable of piercing inwardly;

Instructing quiet, compassionate to all creatures;

To whose control are the movement of his senses;

Conqueror of six enemies of desire, anger, greed, delusion, jealousy, pride;

Foremost highly solemn, knows the distinction between the fit receptable and unfit;

Is equal minded to Siva and Vishnu;


Condemns the doctrines of the unawakened;


Ever content;


Endowed with the powers of Mantra;

Lover of good devotees;



Speaks with prior smile;

Dear to devotees;

Ever generous;

Deep, superb practicant;

Enthusiastic in the worship of his chosen deity, the Guru, the eldest, the Sakti;

Given to blameless ritual of three types;

Regular, specifically occassional and voluntary;

Devoid of anger, hate, fear, pain, ostentation, egoism;

Engaged in the practice of this science(vidya);

Acquiring dharma and the like;

Content with what comes by itself;

Distinguishing between good and bad;

Unattached to women, wealth, bad company, vice etc.;

With a feeling of oneness with all;

Free from dualities;

Constant in observance;

Not over-eager;

Without self desire and partiality;


Not selling mantra, yantra and tantra for the sake of money or learning;

Un-attached, without doubts, with decided views supremely confirming to Dharma, equal in praise and criticism, silent, without preference, free from disease.

O My Beloved! These are the characteristics of a Guru.”

From Kularnav tantra, chapter 13, verse 50.

As said earlier, this was about guru of Kaula sampraday, but you can relate. If you find one with these qualities them they are fit to be your guru. As it says, when the disciple is ready, Guru comes himself.

श्री गुरुवे नमः


  1. (Page 7)
  2. Sastra Praman, Apta Pramana, and Atma Pramana: A Dialogue between Swami Nithyananda and Rajiv Malhotra
  3. “A Discussion with Nithyananda: on God vs. Sadashiva, Why Wear Gold, Attacks against Hinduism & More” … original video of the transcript in 2

VivartVada and AjataVada and AtitaVada

In many text relating to advaita you will find two Vada(वाद) i.e doctrine/thesis:

  1. Vivartavada (विवर्तवाद)
  2. Ajatavada (अजातवाद)

Also you will find some mention Advaita Vedanta as Vivartavada. So, in this article let’s know more about what is Vivartavada and Ajatavada are in the spiritual philosophy of Advaita. Also lets understand how they are connected with AtitaVada


  • Sanskrit word विवर्त means [1] transformation, more precisely [2] apparent form in Vedanta philosophy. Vivartavada means the doctrine of apparent transformation.
  • According to Adi Shankaracharya Jagat (word) is actually apparent transformation of Brahman under the effect of illusion. That means the transformation is only apparent (illusory/virtual) i.e unreal.
  • Just like snake appeared in rope in dark is due to ajnana or avidya i.e ignorance/illusion, world appears in Brahman due to ignorance/illusion but as the real thing – rope doesn’t change/transform into the snake, Brahman doesn’t change. The similar example is of gold and ornaments
  • Note that Vivarta is different from Vikara (विकार). Vikar stands for real transformation but Vivart stands for apparent transformation as explained.
  • It is the doctrine of Adi Shankaracharya for karya-karan (cause and effect) relation/law.

Thus, Vivartavada is a doctrine of Vedanta which explains Jagat (world) as apparent transformation of Brahman (which doesn’t change) because of ajnana or avidya which has two Shakti



(Refer Adi Shankaracharya’s prakaran-grantha like Vivekachudamani, Aparokshanubhuti etc. for clear understanding of his doctrine)

Quoting some verses from Vivekachudamani that say Jagat is nothing but Brahman:-

  1. All this universe which through ignorance appears as of diverse forms, is nothing else but Brahman which is absolutely free from all the limitations of human thought.
  2. A jar, though a modification of clay, is not different from it; everywhere the jar is essentially the same as the clay. Why then call it a jar ? It is fictitious, a fancied name merely.
  3. None can demonstrate that the essence of a jar is something other than the clay (of which it is made). Hence the jar is merely imagined (as separate) through delusion, and the component clay alone is the abiding reality in respect of it.
  4. Similarly, the whole universe, being the effect of the real Brahman, is in reality nothing but Brahman. Its essence is That, and it does not exist apart from It. He who says it does is still under delusion – he babbles like one asleep.
  5. This universe is verily Brahman – such is the august pronouncement of the Atharva Veda. Therefore this universe is nothing but Brahman, for that which is superimposed (on something) has no separate existence from its substratum.
  6. If the universe, as it is, be real, there would be no cessation of the dualistic element, the scriptures would be falsified, and the Lord Himself would be guilty of an untruth. None of these three is considered either desirable or wholesome by the noble-minded.
  7. The Lord, who knows the secret of all things has supported this view in the words: “But I am not in them” … “nor are the beings in Me”.
  8. If the universe be true, let it then be perceived in the state of deep sleep also. As it is not at all perceived, it must be unreal and false, like dreams.
  9. Therefore the universe does not exist apart from the Supreme Self; and the perception of its separateness is false like the qualities (of blueness etc., in the sky). Has a superimposed attribute any meaning apart from its substratum ? It is the substratum which appears like that through delusion.


  • Sanskrit word जात means originate or create/born and अजात means no-origination or no-creation/unborn. Ajatavada means the doctrine of no-origination or non-creation.
  • According to Gaudapada there is no creation and dissolution. The supreme truth is not subject to creation, transformation and delusion.
  • This is also called paramarth satya.

Quoting some verse from Gaudapada Karika on Mandukya Upanishad:

2-32 There is neither dissolution nor creation, none in bondage and none practicing disciplines. There is none seeking Liberation and none liberated. This is the absolute truth.

3-2 Therefore I shall now describe Brahman, which is unborn, the same throughout and free from narrowness. From this one can understand that Brahman does not in reality pass into birth even in the slightest degree, though It appears to be manifest everywhere.

3-15 The scriptural statements regarding the creation, using the examples of earth, iron and sparks, are for the purpose of clarifying the mind. Multiplicity does not really exist in any manner.

3-26 On account of the incomprehensible nature of Atman, the scriptural passage “Not this, not this” negates all dualistic ideas attributed to Atman. Therefore the birthless Atman alone exists.

3-36 Brahman is birthless, sleepless, dreamless, nameless and formless. It is ever effulgent and omniscient. No duty, in any sense, can ever be associated with It.

3-48 No jiva ever comes into existence. There exists no cause that can produce it. The supreme truth is that nothing ever is born.

4-13 There is no illustration to support the view that the effect is born from an unborn cause. Again, if it is said that the effect is produced from a cause which itself is born, then this leads to an infinite regress.

4-14 How can they who assert that the effect is the cause of the cause and the cause is the cause of the effect, maintain the beginninglessness of both cause and effect?

4-15 Those who say that the effect is the cause of the cause and that the cause is the cause of the effect maintain, actually, that the creation takes place after the manner of the birth of father from son.

4-22 Nothing whatsoever is born, either of itself or of another entity. Nothing is ever produced, whether it be being or non—being or both being and non—being.

4-28 Therefore neither the mind nor the objects perceived by the mind are ever born. To see their birth is like seeing the footprints of birds in the sky.

4-30-31 If, as the dualists contend, the world is beginningless, then it cannot be non—eternal. Moksha (Liberation) cannot have a beginning and be eternal. If a thing is non—existent in the beginning and in the end, it is necessarily non—existent in the present.

4-58 Birth is ascribed to the jivas; but such birth is not possible from the standpoint of Reality. Their birth is like that of an illusory object. That illusion, again, does not exist.

4-71 No jiva ever comes into existence. There exists no cause that can produce it. The supreme truth is that nothing ever is born.

Thus, Ajatavada rejects the blame of Avidya, Maya, Jagat, Jiva, Samsara etc. on Aatman.


Vivart vad contrasts with Atitvad. Both are forms of Vedanta, although Atit vad has been much less well known.

Vivart vad, Ajat Vad, and Adwaita are basically, generally the same. This view asserts that the only ultimate reality is formless and that form (including change of those forms such as birth) does not actually exist, it only appears to exist, and this appearance is false, not true, not really or ultimately present or actual (by ‘form’ is meant the objects of all five senses, not just sight).

Atit vad, in contrast, asks, ‘How much sense does it make to say that since the wave is all water, the wave does not exist’? In other words, that the fact that the content of of all forms is abstract and formless Being or Godhead, does not invalidate the structure of the form. Content does not invalidate structure, according to Atit. The fact that all form is made of Brahm, does not invalidate the forms of Brahm (including the ultimate Form of Brahm, the supreme Personality of Godhead) –Godhead having both supremely personal, and supremely impersonal aspects (Ishwara and Brahman).

Atit goes further than this, and says that not only does the Brahman-only content of form not invalidate the form (all forms, the jagat or world), it legitimatizes form and the world: Both boundaries and boundary-making, instead of being due to illusion or maya as vivart vad holds, are due to the activity of Brahm (Godhead, Spirit).

An important related difference between vivart and atit is that vivart sees ultimate reality (Brahman) as basically or generally silent or inactive (although ‘silent’ applies only to hearing, it is used in spiritual circles to mean ‘inactive’ but in a living or positive sort of sense). Advaita (vivart vad) sees activity as mysteriously arising out of silence. In other words, advaita cannot explain the presence of either activity, or form. It just refers to form and activity as the ‘nature’ of Brahman, but somehow not true or real.

Atit Vad in contrast sees ultimate reality as a blend of both silence and dynamism. Activity (Prakriti, especially Paraprakriti) are not in second place to silence. Neither Purusha nor Prakriti are seen as dominant or subordinate or more holistic than the other. In fact, for atit vad, silence and dynamism are not things, but aspects, views, darshans of one reality (Brahm).

The practical result of both these views are dramatically and importantly different:

Vivart vad, in denying the reality of form, activity, and world creates an otherworldly, unrealistic, lethargic, passive personality over time. It is also associated with male chauvanism in using the Sankhya terms Purusha and Prakriti for Brahman and maya, and since Purusha has a male ending, and Prakriti a female ending, this leads to the unspoken assumption and orientation that male is more important, fundamental, and more holistic value (since Purusha is taken as more important, more all-inclusive, than Prakriti – the so-called ‘Hindu Adam’s rib.

Atit vad Vedanta is not world-rejecting or denying. It embraces and values BOTH form and formless. In this way, it is fundamentally different not only from advaita vedanta, but also from various theistic/dualistic traditions which assert the validity of form and and the world, and God, but lessen the importance and ontological status of all-pervading Unity/Brahman, and sometimes even the existence of a single all-pervading reality.

There is also an important difference between Vivart Vedanta and Atit Vedanta. regarding God (Ishwara, Bhagwan). Advaita/vivart implicitly denies God as ultimate. “Duality we imagine for the sake of devotion” is attributed to Shankara, or a supposed early or younger Shankara. Obviously, duality, a kind of duality, is required for God’s existence, or God could not be an object of experience. For God to be meaningful, there must be the dualism of the individual and God.

Vivart denies this duality, and thereby God is placed, at least implicitly, in the same category as jiva and jagat – illusory, imaginary. Because all duality for advaita/vivart is illusory, imaginary. Followers of advaita are left with an inexplicable contradiction between an ultimate impersonal inactive Brahman that places devotion and their Object of devotion as non-ultimate.

This is not the case for Atit Vedanta, which affirms both unity and duality, the One and the Many, formless and form, Brahman and Ishwara.

Atit Vad is not pantheism. It does not say that Brahman is nothing other than the relative and its activity, or that there is nothing transcendental to jagrat (waking state) perception and experience. According to Atit, it is not that silence is transcendental to relative activity. Instead, there are levels of refinement of Brahm – saguna and nirguna Brahm. But nirguna does not mean silent unity only. It means that the activity of nirguna Brahm is more refined, unmanifest, latent, not expressed.

Vivart vad can be seen as stating something similar in saying the maya or form is the ‘nature’ latent in Brahm. But the difference is that adwaita says this nature is illusory, unreal, whereas Atit vad says that the word ‘nature’ means identity and essence, and that causation of the world is due to the manifestation of the real latent potentiality of Brahm, which is a blend of real silence and real activity (two aspects, not two ‘things’).

Regarding Shankara and what he said and did not say, Vedantic scholarship c. 2020 is showing evidence that many works attributed to Shankara may not have been written by him. Richard Jones, for example, states that the Brahma Sutra Bhashya is the only work that has scholarly consensus as having been written by Adishankara, although other texts may have been authored by him. Sue Hamilton in her Oxford Very Short Introduction to Indian Philosophy makes similar statements, and even states that Shankara did not use the term ‘maya.’ Statements by these or other modern scholars (such as Paul Hacker?) assert that Shankara’s views of vivart vad may have been misportrayed, and are not consistently in line with the typical advaitic views of the world being entirely illusory. Richard King is an example of another contemporary scholar who is differentiating between traditional legends and attributions of Shankara, and the widely forgotten influence of his disciples and rivals of the time and later (Cf. King’s Indian Philosophy)

an example of Shankara sometimes leaning toward atit rather than vivart:

The view attributed to Shankara of the world as Saguna Brahman (qualified Brahman or Brahman with qualities) implies that the forms of the world are in fact Brahman and therefore ultimate, not false. So there is a contrasting or contradiction inherent in Vivart vad (or at least Shankara’s version of it) of accepting and denying the Brahman (ultimate) nature of the world.

Sri Aurobindo calls the view that the world and form are not ultimately real “the Great Denial,” and states it is due to the experience of a very advanced – but not final – stage or level of higher states of consciousness. The experience of silent Unity of the Self-as-all is at first so overwhelmingly powerful, and overshadow the experience of Ishwara’s divinity, that it can seem to be final. But eventually integration proceeds and one begins to see the blend of both silence and activity, impersonal and personal, in the full nature of Brahm, Spirit, Godhead.

Bottom Line: Adherents and devotees of spirituality have seemed to have an either-or choice of two views: either Unity or duality – either spiritual life or material life, either the One or the Many:

  • ultimate Unity with no duality is real (One, not Many)


  • ultimate duality with no Unity is real (God/duality, not One)

A variation on this is to diminish Unity or duality compared to the other, also creating profound imbalance deep within the personality (prajnaaparaadh).

Atit Vad removes the need for this dissatisfying and metaphysically and subconsciously frustrating choice by accepting the ultimacy of both Unity and Duality, formless and form, Brahman and Ishwara, impersonal and personal, intellect and heart, making rejection of either metaphysical reality or physical reality unnecessary. This lays the foundation for a philosophy that embraces life, while avoiding excessive attachment, and eventually freeing one from spiritual bondage without lifestyle or attitudinal renunciation.

Vishnu Bhagwaan on sheshnaga

All about Ekadashi

This article is dedicated to answer various questions related to Ekadashi Tithi and Ekadashi Vratam. This article will keep updating based on the need of new information.

Origin of Ekadashi

In the fourteenth chapter of Padma Purana, in the section named Kriya-sagara-sara, Srila Vyasadeva explains the origin of Ekadasi to Sage Jaimini as follows:

At the beginning of the material creation, the Supreme Lord, for the purpose of punishing the sinful human beings, created a personality whose form was the embodiment of sin (Papapurusha). The different limbs of this personality were constructed of the various sinful activities. In order to control Papapurusha, the personality known as Yamaraja came into existence along with the different hellish planetary systems. Those living entities that are very sinful are sent after death to Yamaraja, who will in turn, according to their sins, send them to a hellish region to suffer.

The living entities, according to their karmic activities thus began to enjoy or suffer. Seeing so many souls suffer in hellish condition, the compassionate Lord began to feel sorry for them. In order to help them He manifested from His own form the deity of the lunar day Ekadasi. Thus, Ekadasi is the personification of the vow to fast on the eleventh day of the lunar month. Therefore Ekadasi is the selfsame form of the Supreme Lord Vishnu. Sri Ekadasi is the utmost pious activity and is situated at the head among all vows.

Afterwards the different sinful living entities began to follow the vow of Ekadasi and were then elevated quickly to the abode of Vaikuntha. Following the ascension of Sri Ekadasi, Papapurusha (sin personified) gradually saw that his own existence was being threatened. He approached Lord Vishnu praying that, ‘O Lord, I am your created progeny, and it is through me that you wanted distress given to the living entities who are very sinful. But now, by the influence of Sri Ekadasi, I have become all but destroyed. You please save me from the fear of Ekadasi. No type of pious activity can bind me. But Ekadasi only, being Your own manifested form, can impede me. I cannot find a place where I can be free from fear of Sri Ekadasi. Oh my Master! I am a product of Your creation, so therefore very mercifully direct me to a place where I can reside fearlessly.’

After this, Lord Vishnu, observing the condition of the Papapurusha began to speak thus: ‘Oh Papapurusha! Rise up! Don’t lament any longer. Just listen, and I’ll tell you where you can stay on the auspicious lunar day of Ekadasi. On the day of Ekadasi, which is the benefactor of the three worlds, you can take shelter of foodstuff in the form of grains. There is no reason to worry about this any more, because My form as Sri Ekadasi Devi will no longer impede you.’ After giving direction to the Papapurusha, the Supreme Lord Vishnu disappeared and the Papapurusha returned to the performance of his own activities. According to the instructions of Lord Vishnu, every kind of sinful activity that can be found in the material world takes its residence in this place of foodstuff (grains). Therefore those persons who are serious about the ultimate benefit for the soul will never eat grains on the Ekadasi day.

This is the story behind ekadashi vrat puja.

As we all know its importance is fasting on ekadashi may free you from sins. Different Ekadashi has different story behind it. Common is some sage suggests some x person to fast on x ekadashi to free from x sin.

How many Ekadashi are there in a year?

Not only Ekadashi but also all tithis (other than Purnima (full moon day) and Amavasya (no moon day) which occur only once in a month) come twice in a month i.e one in Krishna Paksha and one in Shukla Paksha. Also, There is a concept of Adhika Maasa (extra month) which occurs about every 32.5 months to keep the lunar (a lunar year contains only 354.36 days) and solar calendars aligned.

So there are 24 Ekadashi fasting days in a normal year

  • Utpanna Ekadashi – Margashirsha, Krishna Ekadashi
  • Mokshada Ekadashi – Margashirsha, Shukla Ekadashi
  • Saphala Ekadashi – Pausha, Krishna Ekadashi
  • Pausha Putrada Ekadashi – Pausha, Shukla Ekadashi
  • Shattila Ekadashi – Magha, Krishna Ekadashi
  • Jaya Ekadashi – Magha, Shukla Ekadashi
  • Vijaya Ekadashi – Phalguna, Krishna Ekadashi
  • Amalaki Ekadashi – Phalguna, Shukla Ekadashi
  • Papmochani Ekadashi – Chaitra, Krishna Ekadashi
  • Kamada Ekadashi – Chaitra, Shukla Ekadashi
  • Varuthini Ekadashi – Vaishakha, Krishna Ekadashi
  • Mohini Ekadashi – Vaishakha, Shukla Ekadashi
  • Apara Ekadashi – Jyeshtha, Krishna Ekadashi
  • Nirjala / Pandava / Bhimseni / Bhima Ekadashi – Jyeshtha, Shukla Ekadashi
  • Yogini Ekadashi – Ashadha, Krishna Ekadashi
  • Devshayani / Padma / Ashadi/ Hari Shayani Ekadashi – Ashadha, Shukla Ekadashi
  • Kamika Ekadashi – Shravana, Krishna Ekadashi
  • Shravana Putrada / Pavitropana Ekadashi / Pavitra Ekadashi – Shravana, Shukla Ekadashi
  • Aja Ekadashi – Bhadrapada, Krishna Ekadashi
  • Parsva / Parivartini Ekadashi – Bhadrapada, Shukla Ekadashi
  • Indira Ekadashi – Ashwina, Krishna Ekadashi
  • Papankusha Ekadashi – Ashwina, Shukla Ekadashi
  • Rama Ekadashi – Kartika, Krishna Ekadashi
  • Prabodhini / Dev Uthani / Devutthana Ekadashi – Kartika, Shukla Ekadashi

There are 2 extra Ekadahsis in Adhika Maasa. Hence, there would be 26 Ekadashi fasting days in a year which has Adhika Masa:

How many days after one another Ekadashi comes? and why?

Generally 15 days but not necessarily. As mentioned above Ekadashi re-occurs after 15 tithis but there is no fixed duration for a tithi (in terms of days).

Does each one different from each other? why is it different?

Each one is associated with some story of Lord Vishnu. For example, DevShayani Ekadashi and DevUthani Ekadashi are completely different.

Padma Purana: Uttara-Khanda has a dedicated chapter on each Ekadashi:

Padma Purana: Uttara-Khanda : Ekadashi related Chapters

Does the sequence of Ekadashi remain same for each year? Why do they come in the same sequence?

Like we have Jan, Feb… similarly we have Chaitra, Vaisakha… So the sequence remains the same.

Is there any Ekadashi, which is most important hence most people follow it?

This depends on opinion, belief and geographical location. In Narada Purana:

Sanatkumar says: “O Narada! A fast on Ekadashi (eleventh day) in both the phases of a month pleases Sri Hari and fulfills all the desires”.

As per PADMA-PURANA : UTTARAKHANDA : Chapter 51. Nirjala Ekadasi, sage Vyasa advised Bhima to observe single Nirjala Ekadasi fasting to compensate for not observing all Ekadashi fasting in a year.

In some geographical location, few people give more importance to Nirjala, DevShayani, Parivartini (Parsva) and DevUthani Ekadashis.

Why Nirjala Ekadashi is also known as Bhima Ekadashi?

Nirjala Ekadashi is also known as Bhimseni or Bhima Ekadashi due to one legend associated with Nirjala Ekadashi.

Bhimsen, the voracious eater, was not able to control his desire of having food. Due to this reason he was not able to observe Ekadashi fasting and met Maharishi Vyasa to find some solution.

Sage Vyasa advised Bhima to observe single Nirjala Ekadasi fasting to compensate for not observing all Ekadashi fasting in a year. ~nirjala-ekadashi-drikpanchang

Due to this legend Nirjala Ekadashi is also known as Bhimseni Ekadashi.

The more detailed story is given here (in Hindi) and in PADMA-PURANA : UTTARAKHANDA : Chapter 51. Nirjala Ekadasi.

How to do the Ekadashi fast?

As we all know its importance is fasting on #ekadashi may free you from sins. Different Ekadashi has different story behind it. But in this video we presents most common theme : Fasting and how to do it.

This blog post will keep updating to add more information.

Further reading

Difference between Purnimanta and Amanta

Story of king Ambarīṣa : SB 9.4 and SB 9.5


Sri or Lakshmi: A Detailed Iconography

This article is written by Monidipa Bose Dey. You can read her blog here.

Sri or Lakshmi- the goddess of wealth and prosperity. The most sought after devi especially for homemakers and those in trade and commercial activities. She is also among the earliest represented deities in Indian iconography in the form of Gaja Lakshmi.


Rig Veda uses the term Sri both as a noun and adjective to denote anything that appears as beautiful, which includes wealth and prosperity; while as a verb it is used in the connection of mixing milk with soma where the former adds to beauty or taste of the latter (enhancement). The Brahmanas first personifies Sri, where she takes the form of a beautiful woman and appears from the ascetic Prajapati. The term Lakshmi in Rigveda refers to auspicious qualities, and in later Vedic literature Sri and Lakshmi appear together denoting loveliness. In Srisukta (pre Buddhist period) Sri and Lakshmi are considered as one devi who is padmasthita or stands on the lotus. In Taittiriya Upanishad Sri gives cows, food, drinks, and clothes; hence Sri should be brought home. In the Sutras, Sri is given offerings as the head of the bed, denoting her associations with the fertility rituals and mother goddesses.

Padmastitha, Gaja-Lakshmi. Terracotta. Uttar Pradesh. 1st century BCE. Los Angeles County Museum of Art

While the association of Sri-Lakshmi with Vishnu starts with the Epics, interestingly a look at the Vedic verses dedicated to Aditi shows her as the Mother of the Universe and the wife of the Vedic Vishnu (Yajur Veda). She is sometimes identified as the Earth, who is worshipped for wealth and prosperity; and sometimes she is referred to as a milk giving cow whose milk is equal to the heavenly soma. Thus, it is clear that Aditi as the Universal Mother and the Lady of Abundance of the Vedas bears resemblances to the later period consorts of Vishnu: Bhu devi and Sri-Lakshmi. Thus, Sri is the Mother (from an inscription found at Bharhut, and some later sculptures showing her pressing milk from her breast), and at the same time as per later Vaishnava theology, she is also Prakriti, keeping in line with Narayana (Vishnu) as the Purusha or spirit.

One of the most beautiful representations of Sri-Lakshmi as the Mother (front side). Kushana period, 2nd c. CE, Mathura

Besides Aditi in Yajur Veda, the early Samhita texts have names of other devis of abstract characters, which remind one of Sri-Lakshmi of the later period. Purandhi (many regard her as the Vedic form of Avestan Parendi) is the goddess of plenty, while Raka is portrayed as a rich and beautiful devi. Sinivali is mentioned in Atharvaveda VIII as Vishnu’s wife, who is fair, prolific, and invoked for bearing children. In the later Vedic texts Raka and Sinivali become connected with the different phases of the moon, where Raka is the presiding deity of the purnima (full moon) night, and Sinivali is the deity of the new moon night (amavasya). The Brahmana text (Sathpatha Brahmana) gives an interesting story regarding the origin of Sri, where it states that when Prajapati became tired of creating beings, Sri came forth from him. The gods seeing her perfect and radiant beauty were envious and wanted to kill her; however Prajapati intervened and asked the gods to take away her attributes and spare her life. The gods thus took from her: food, kingdom, sovereignty, noble rank, power, holy shine, dominion, wealth, prosperity, and beauty. Later the devi offered 10 sacrificial dishes to the 10 gods who had taken away her attributes, and had everything offered back to her. The underlying point of this story is that Sri embodies all the major characteristics that are coveted by man. The Taittiriya Upanishad (I) and other texts also emphasize on these characteristics of the devi, while Sri-sukta ( a late supplement of the Rigveda) gives 15 verses defining the most distinctive features of the devi, and it is here that Sri is also named as Lakshmi, and is described as a golden colored antelope with gold and and silver garlands.

Gaja Lakshmi, Gangaikondacholapuram, 11th century CE

It is in the Epics that Sri-Lakshmi takes a firm shape as the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and is associated with kings and gods. Here Sri clearly stands for prosperity, perseverance, and success: the characteristics of victorious kings. In the Mahabharata and VishnuPurana Sri-Lakshmi is said to have been born out of the churning waters of the Ocean during Samudramanthan (her association with the waters has always been implied by the presence of lotus in her hands or around her). She is the wife of Vishnu and also the wife of Dharma; and the mother of Kamadeva ( as the mother of Makaradhvaja or Kamdev she carries the sign of makara on her hand in Mahabharata xiii, 11, 3). She is also Rukmini, the chief consort of Krishna and the mother of his son Pradyumna. As wife of Dharma, Sri is shown separate from Lakshmi, and in Mahabharata she is associated with abstract forms such as Pusti, Hri, Uma, Sarasvati, Kirti, Dyuti, etc. ; however barring this exception, Sri and Lakshmi are seen as one entity. Radha in connection with Krishna is also seen as the manifestation of Sri-Lakshmi in human form, in whom we find prem ras or love idealised and perfected. Some verses in the Mahabharata have also closely associated Kubera with Sri-Lakshmi and this ideological union between the goddess of prosperity and the god of wealth is easily understandable.

Sri Lakshmi coming out of the ocean during Samudramanthan

In Buddhist texts Sri is given less importance, and is casually mentioned in many places as devakumarika; the devi who bestows fortune and beauty, and is associated with the northern and southern quarters. In Jataka 535 and in Kadambari, the devi is reproached for her fickleness, unstable nature, and the willingness to indiscriminately bestow fortune on the lazy, ugly, and the lowborn, along with the hardworking, wise, and the high born. In Japanese Buddhism Sri-Lakshmi is the daughter of Hariti, hence a yakshi.

Buddhist Sri Lakshmi

In Jaina literature, Sri-Lakshmi finds more importance, and in Paryusana Kalpa the abhiseya of Sri is one of the 14 auspicious dreams of Trisala (mother of Mahavira), which foretells the birth of this great Jina. The detailed description of it paints a fine imagery of the abhiseya, where Sri- Lakshmi of great physical beauty wearing a garland of gold coins (dinaras) rests on a lotus in a lotus pond amidst the surrounding peaks of the Himalaya, as the trunks of two elephants pour water on her. In the much later Jaina text Parisistaparvan, we find Sri devi described as holding a lotus and residing in Padmahrada in the Himalaya.

Lakshmi in modern Bengal art, Owl as her vahana was a much later addition.

Thus, Sri Lakshmi developed quite like how the devi form in the Sakta sect gradually evolved from the basic concept of mother goddesses, where abstract ideas acquired greater spiritual depth and were given concrete imagery shapes in the form of popular deities that related better with the masses. Thus, while Sri-Lakshmi in the later literature becomes the devi of fortune moving with kings and gods, she still manages to retain her old charm associated with love (Radha), beauty, and a general sense sense of well being; the Universal Mother bestowing plenty (crops and children) on her devotees.

Lakshmi as popularly seen in modern Bengal art

From the various available literature one characteristic that is seen constantly associated with Sri- Lakshmi is that of the presence of waters, symbolically represented by lotus. According to Coomaraswamy there are three varieties of Sri-Lakshmi:

  1. She is seen carrying a lotus in her right hand, while her left hand hangs freely or rests on her hips in katihasta mudra (Padmahasta)
  2. Shown as seated or standing on a lotus seat or pedestal (Padmasana or Padmapitha)
  3. Surrounded by lotus foliage, where the devi is sometimes seen holding one of the flowering stems in each hand (Padmavasini or Kamalalaya).

These may appear as separate or the three or two may be combined together in a murti. While the first two representations are also seen in yaksis, the third one is the most distinctive feature of the early representations of the devi.

Padmahasta, PadmasanaPadmavasini.
Bas relief of Gaja Lakshmi at the Sanchi Stupa, Stupa I, North gateway, Satavahana dynasty sculpture, 1st century CELotus symbolizes water and Sri is always associated with lotus and waters.

Iconographic studies by TAG Rao shows that Sri Lakshmi can be two-four or even many armed; however the most common variety is the two armed form. In her arms are seen the various attributes, such as lotus (the constant attribute), sriphala or wood apple (bael), sankha, amritaghata, matulunga (citron), khetaka (shield), kaumodiki (club), etc. As per the Viswakarmasastra , Mahalakshmi in Kolhapur carries a pot, a club, a shield and wood apple. Candikalpa, which is a supplementary to Devi Mahatmya, describes the devi with 18 arms carrying japmala, hatchet, club, arrow, vajra, padma, bow, kundika (small pitcher), staff, spear, sword, shield, bell, and winecup.

Gaja Lakshmi, holding lotus and cornucopia, flanked by two elephants and two lions. From Kashmir, 6th century CE. now at Metropolitan Museum of art

The imagery depiction of Sri Lakshmi in earliest form of Indian iconographic art has followed various modes. In Bharhut there is a magnificent pillar relief depicting a standing female figure in samapadasthanaka posture with her right hand holding a flower, (as per Coomaraswamy it is a lotus), while her left hand hangs by her side. This figure is inscribed as Sirima devta, the goddess Mother Sri (as per Sirikalakanni Jataka).

Sirima devta

The variants of Sirima devta is seen across Sanchi, Bodh Gaya, etc. where sometimes the background changes showing a padmavana (a lotus forest). Sometimes a makara is also seen associated with the devi, as seen in a fragmentary coping stone from Amaravati of 2nd c. CE (makara being a mythical water creature and symbolising fertility; and as also the mother of Makaradhvaja or Kamdev). The much mutilated female figure which was found by Cunningham along with the Besnagar kalpataru capital is also that of Sri Lakshmi as identified by Banerjea. A rather unique form of the devi is seen from the Mauryan-Sunga period, as in terracotta figurines (one such is seen in Spooner’s list, number 550) where she is represented with unusual wings, heavy earrings, heavy bracelets, torque, and archaic styled costume.

The famous Pompeii Lakshmi (ivory murti) was found amidst the ruins of Pompeii and is said to have come from Bhokardan in Maharashtra during the Satavahana period (first half of the 1st c. CE). It stands as a testimony of the thriving Indo-Roman trade relations in the beginning of the Common Era. photo source Wikipedia

Sri-Lakshmi on coins

Sri-Lakshmi is one of the earliest deities in Indian iconography to be found frequently on tribal coins as Gaja Lakshmi, where she is shown standing (rarely seated) being bathed by two elephants. This devi was so popular that she is seen on the coins of both Indian and non-native rulers of northern India in ancient era. Gaja Lakshmi appears on an inscribed coin from 3rd c. BCE coin found in Kausambi, coins of Ujjayini (2nd-3rd c. BCE), coins of Visakhadeva, Sivadatta, and Vayudeva of Ayodhya (1st c. BCE). Many rulers of foreign origin like Azilises, Rajuvala, and Sodasa also used this devi as a motif on their coins. In central Indian many early monuments show the devi in this form in their relief carvings, thus showing a close connection between the sculptural and numismatic representations of the devi. This motif (gaja-Lakshmi) symbolises the Indian idea of prosperity and wealth, and is still held in great reverence among the Indics.

Azilises Gaja Lakshmi standing on a lotus, 1st c. BCE. From Wikipedia
Gajalaxmi – Medallion – 2nd Century BCE – Red Sand Stone – Bharhut Stupa Railing Pillar – Madhya Pradesh – Indian Museum – Kolkata. From Wikipedia.

Sri Lakshmi without the elephants, either seated or standing on a fully blossomed lotus holding lotus in her hand is seen frequently on the coins of Ujjayini of various Hindu kings, such as Brahmamitra, Suryamitra, Vishnumitra, etc. Her hand is frequently seen in the coins of the Mathura satraps such as Sivadatta, Rajuvala etc. , on coins of Rajanya janapada, and coins of Bhadraghosa (Pancala). Sri Lakshmi also appears on the coins of the Gupta kings in various forms (one of which is an exact Indian counterpart of the foreign origin goddess Ardochso ), and is a constant on the coins from later periods.

Sri Lakshmi on seals

The Gupta period has yielded many finely executed seals that bear Gaja Lakshmi as the motif (in her various forms). The copper plate seal of the Kumaramatyadhikarana (early Gupta period) shows Gaja Lakshmi standing among trees with elephants pouring water over her and two dwarfs attendants (yakshas) holding money bags. This form has many variations on seals, where sometimes the yaksha attendants are missing, and in some they are shown pouring out the objects in the bag, and in one there is a kneeling attendant. These money bags are the same as the one we see at the base of the Kalpataru found at Besnagar. In another seal found at Basarh by Spooner (seal no. 93) has the devi shown with a halo behind her, facing front, her left hand on her hip and right hand raised, standing on a pedestal placed on the centre of what looks like a barge, justifying the devi’s close association with trade and commerce (vanjiye vasate Laksmih). Among the seals found from Bhita (another Gupta period site) of Sri Lakshmi, the most frequently found is that of her in the Gaja Lakshmi form, shown sometimes with a chakra like motif and named Vishnurakshita, sometimes with the yakshas, with a sankha, or a bird like creature likely to be Garuda.

Winged Mother goddess/Lakshmi in terracotta , Sunga dynasty, Chandraketugarh, West Bengal, 2nd-1st century B.C, , Ethnological Museum, Berlin. photo from the internet.
A plaque depicting a winged female figure- Lakshmi , standing on a lotus, 1st century BCE to 1st century CE – Chandraketugarh (courtesy: Sengupta, Roy Chowdhury, Chakraborty 2007)
Seal Impression with Sri Lakshmi with Elephants (Gaja-Lakshmi) India, Bihar, Basarh 5th c. CE, Source: Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Gajalakshmi, Kausambi, 3rd c. CE, Early Gupta, Allahabad university. photo from the internet
Lakshmi enthroned facing, holding cornucopia and diadem, Gupta gold coin, c. 335-375 CE (photo source)
Lakshmi seated left on a stool, holding a cornucopia and diadem, Gupta, gold dinar, c. 335-375 CE (Photo Source)
The coin featured in the image belongs to Sasanka (600-635 CE). He was the king of Gauda and his capital was at Karnasuvarna, near Murshidabad. The obverse of the coin depicts Shiva, nimbate, reclining on a couchant bull with his left hand upraised and Brahmi legend in the right field (off flan). The reverse has Goddess Lakshmi, seated on lotus and elephants pouring water over her head and Brahmi legend ‘Sri Sasanka’. It is a Base gold Dinar weighing 8.81 grams. This Abhishekha type coin was sold for INR 40,000 at Todywalla Auction. source
This copper coin was issued by ‘Satakarni’ from the Satavahana dynast. The obverse of the coin depicts Goddess Laxmi seated on a lotus in padmasana yogic posture with legend ‘Sri Satakarni’above, and two elephants showering water on her from either side’. The reverse of the coin depicts ‘Ujjain Symbol’. source
Sandstone Lakshmi statue (10th century), Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City.
Gajalakshmi, Cave No. 16 (Kailasa Temple), Ellora Caves
Gaja Lakshmi, Tanjore Big Temple.

Cover photo is a gold pendant of the Kushana era (2nd c. CE) showing GajaLakshmi holding lotus in both her hands, while in her left over the lotus appears a bowl of fruit (this has been wrongly identified as Hariti by the Victoria and Albert Museum, where it is currently kept)


Kiran Kumar Thaplyal. OBSERVATIONS ON SOME DOUBLE AND MULTIPLE SEALS AND SEAL-IMPRESSIONS. Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 33 (1971), pp. 35-38 (4 pages). Published by: Indian History Congress.

TAG Rao, Elements of Hindu iconography

Sivaramamurti, Goddess Lakshmi and her symbols

Banerjea, Padmini Vidya, 1941

Coomaraswamy, Early Indian Iconography.

This article is written by Monidipa Bose Dey. You can read her blog here.

Shiva- the conqueror of Time and Death

This article is written by Monidipa Bose Dey. You can read her blog here.

Aum Tryambakam yajaamahe sugandhim pushtivardhanam |

Urvaarukamiva bandhanaan-mrityormuksheeya maamritaat ||

Tadipatri, Photo by Jay Shankar

One among the most influential gods in Hinduism, Shiva is a part of the old Hindu triad, and his followers are cumulatively known as Saivites, although there are many sects within it. While Shiva is associated with the act of destruction (Samhara) or dissolution (Pralay) within the Hindu Trinity, for his followers he is the Lord of everything, that is, he is the Master of Creation (Srishti), Preservation of Life (Sthiti), and the Master of Destruction (Pralay). Along with three acts, Shiva is also shown with the acts of anugraha or prasada where he rewards his devotees, and tirobhava (power of concealment).

These five together are known as pancakriyas or the five fold activities that is seen in his various manifestations depicted on temple walls. He is also the Lord of alive and dead- Pashupati and Bhutanatha, the Master of concentration and meditation- Adiyogi, the greatest among all gods (Mahadeva), and the beloved husband of Uma (Umapati).

Head of Shiva, Mathura, 400-420 CE, Ashmolean Museum

The Shiva that we find in the Epics and the Puranas had developed from his older counterparts that had combined both the Vedic and non Vedic aspects. In the Vedas it is Rudra who is the counterpart of the Puranic Shiva, and his traits are well enumerated in the one hundred names attributed to him in the Sukla Yajurveda (Satarudriya). Here it is worth mentioning that the worship of a deity akin to that of the Puranic Shiva is many respects seems to have been popularly worshipped during the Indus Saraswati civilisation too. While we are yet to know the name by which the Harappans worshipped this deity (termed often as proto Shiva by the archaeologists), the Vedic name Rudra continues in the epics and puranas.

The name Shiva, which means auspicious, is used often for describing other gods in that particular sense in the early Vedic literature It became a proper name in the later Vedic strata. In Svestasvara Upanishad the word Shiva is used multiple times as one of the names of Rudra. Besides Shiva, the other names used are Rudra-Siva, Mahesvara, Mahadeva, and Isana (Brahmanas). He is also Giritra (one who resides in the hills), Krttivasa (garment made of animal skin), and Kapardi (wears a crown of snail shell like jata on his head). In Atharvaveda we find Rudra becoming the supreme god where he is described with epithets such as Bhava, Sarva (one who wields arrow), Ugra, Pasupati, Mahadeva (greatest among all gods), and Isana. The Brahmanas (Satapatha and Kaustiki) add Asani which make 8 such epithets (including Rudra). Each of these 8 epithets also signify his two aspects (4 each) – the aghora/ghora or terrific aspect, and the Saumya or his peaceful aspect. Thus, Rudra, Sarva, Ugra, and Asani are his terrific or destructive aspects; while Pasupati, Mahadev, Isana, and Bhava depict his peaceful or beneficent aspect.

Six-armed Shiva with Nandi, Gandharan Art,
Akhun Dheri, 3rd-4th Century, Peshawar Museum
Shiva and Parvati, 3rd c. CE, Gandhara art. source

The worship of Shiva (Shaivism) is one of the oldest and the most popular or widely spread practice within the group of Indic religions. Shaivism has many sub sects and the well known ones among them are the Agamanta or Suddha saiva sect, the Vedanta Saivas, the Pasupatas, the Kapalikas, Kalamukhas, Virasaivas, Nayanars, Pratyabhijnas, etc. With varying practices and rituals these sects form a complex and different topic altogether, and I will perhaps some day take it up in a separate article. Here in this post I will focus solely on the the iconography of Shiva.

Harappan era linga, at the Harappa Gallery-National Museum, Delhi.
Relief Showing Shiva Linga being worshipped by Saka Devotees – Kushan Period, Mathura Museum.

Shiva on coins

The presence of Shiva in early coins is easily noticed by the bull appearing in many coins of indigenous nature and also on those made by the foreign rulers. He has also been represented theriomorphically in many cases. Thus, the humped bull on the back side of an unknown Indo-Scythic king (inscribed in Greek and Kharosthi scripts the words Tauras and Usabhe (vrisabha) is quite likely to stand for Shiva.

In his studies of ancient Indian coins J. Allan has mentioned few uninscribed cast coins that show emblems depicting lingam with or without a pedestal. Sometimes these coins ( from Taxila with inscriptions in Brahmi, dated 2nd-3rd c. BCE if not earlier) would show a hill between two trees and a chattri on top, or the linga placed between two trees which were likely referring to a particular Saiva sect. Besides Allan, Coomaraswamy and Banerjea also stated that these phallic representations of Shiva (lingam) are probably among the earliest found Shiva’s representation on local or tribal coins from historical period. Shiva’s connections with trees and mountains are easily accounted for in many of the old texts, and similar depictions continued well into the Gupta period. Some of the other symbols (such as a crescent moon) that depicted Shiva on early historic coins are :

1. trisula placed inside a railing with two pillars on two sides depicting Rudra-Shiva (pancala series of their kings Rudragupta and Agnimitra),

2. a star with double trident with prongs on top and below,

3. tree in center with two figures on either side inside an enshrined trisula, and

4. combined trident and a battle-axe (coins of Audumbara chief Dharaghosha, and Wema Kadphises).

Shiva appears in his anthropomorphic form for the first time in coins from Ujjayini and its surrounding areas as:

a) a single figure holding a staff and a vase

b) accompanied with his Nandi,

c) three headed figure standing alone carrying the staff and vase.

The copper coins of Audumabara kings (1st -2nd c. BCE) would invariably show “2 storied domed stupa like structures” (Coomaraswamy) with the trident and battle axe in front. These coins clearly show the stupa like structures were actually Shiva shrines, which most likely had a linga or an image placed inside. These coins also clearly establish the fact the worship of Shiva and some of its sects were already well in place by the 3rd c. BCE.

Some of the Shiva representations on the early historic coins of India. Ref: Banerjea plate I, “Coin devices“.

NoteHere I have mentioned the ancient most coins of the historic era that were found depicting Shiva, but if one is further interested in reading on the coins that show more representations of Shiva, it would be prudent to take up the coins of Kushana era kings (Wema Kadphises, Kanishka, Huvishka, and Vasudeva) who had minted many unique coins depicting Shiva on them; followed by a study of the coins by the Gupta dynasty.

Oesho or Shiva, Kanishka era
Oesho or Shiva with bull, Kanishka era

Shiva on seals

Shiva has been represented in various forms on ancient seals that have been unearthed from different sites such as Basarh, Bhita, Rajghat, etc., which range from the Kushan era to the Gupta period. examples of these finds include a seal showing a linga between two trees with the word padapesvara (in Gupta characters) inscribed on it (from the collection of Dhir Singh Nahar of Calcutta) ; or the one discovered by T. Bloch at Basarh, where it showed a shivlinga with a trisula and a parasu with the inscription Amratakesvara, meaning the lord of Amrataka (a mountain- there are 8 guhya lingas as given in Matsyapurana– Amratakesvara is one of them).

A look at the Harappan era seals show many figures in yogic postures often sitting on deer throne and wearing deer horns while surrounded by animals such as buffalo, rhinoceros, tiger, and elephant. While the script remains undeciphered, many archaeologists and historians have termed these seals as proto-Shiva; associated with what later developed into the Puranic Shiva.

The famous Pashupati seal discovered during excavation of Mohenjo-Daro and showing a possible representation of a “yogi” or “proto-Shiva” figure as Paśupati (Lord of the Animals) Circa 2350-2000 BCE.

Moving on to the Basarh seals, one found by Spooner of the early Gupta period, shows a roughly sketched bull running to the right with a moon on top, and which Spooner described as “nothing but Siva with crescent moon (Sasankasekhara) in his theriomorphic form (bull- Nandi)”. Another seal from the same collection shows a recumbent bull in the middle of a field with the inscription Rudradevasya. The humped bull, trisula, and parasu are common motifs seen recurring on many seals depicting Shiv from the Basarh site. Another from Spooner’s collection (of the Kushan era) shows an ardhanarisvera which is considered as the earliest representation of this aspect of Siva. The Bhita site has also yielded many seals that show nandipada, nandi (shown sometimes with a sphere between his horns in Satavahana ones), linga, trisula, and parasu, all of which depict Siva. Some of the seals also depict various aspects of Shiva in human forms such as Kalesvara, Kalanjara-bhattaraka (Kalanjara is the name of a hill in Bundelkhand -Cunningham), Bhadresvara, Mahesvara, etc. Another seal from this site shows Shiva as two armed seated in lalitasana on a padmapitha and flames are seen over his head and shoulders, while the 4th-5th c. CE inscription reads Bhadresvara (of Vamanapurana). Few seals found at Bhita depict Shiva and Durga with the bull and belong to the 2nd -3rd c. CE.

Worshipping the Lingam

It has been an early popular practice among the Saivas to worship Shiva in his emblem form, which is the Sivalinga. It was placed as the main object of worship in the main sanctum of the temple, while the anthropomorphic figures of Shiva were seen sculpted on various parts of temple walls, mainly as accessory figures for the darshan of the devotees as they circumambulated the temple.

Uttar Pradesh, Mathura, 1st century CE , India. Sandstone , Philadelphia Museum of Art
Ekmukha linga, Kushana era, Mathura museum
Devotees worshiping Shiva-linga, 11th-12th c. CE, Chandella, Khajuraho-MPNational Museum, Delhi
Shivalinga, Kikkeri. Photo by Jay Shankar
Photo by Jay Shankar

Two such Shivalingas, considered as among the oldest found ones, were examined by Gopinath Rao using various texts, and described in great details in his book. Rao had also discovered the Gudimallam linga, considered one among the two oldest shiva lingas, where a standing Shiva is carved on the linga.

The Gudimallam lingam (dated between 2nd c. BCE – 1st c. BCE) , an urddhava-retas linga, is carved out of hard reddish brown igneous rock commonly found in the Tirupati hills, and shows light polish. It is one foot thick, stands five foot above floor level, the pindika or pedestal is cut in the ground in the form of a quadrangular ridge, and is set directly to a hole cut in the ground. The front part bears the figure of Shiva in high relief, standing on the shoulders of a grinning apasmarapurusa. The urdhavalinga Siva (characteristic of the Common Era) is not seen here, though the linga is made clearly discernible through the diaphanous clothing. Shiva holds a ram in his right hand by its hind legs, and water vessel in his left, and a battle axe (parasu) rests on his left shoulder. On his head, like a turban are the hair plaits (hair not matted), while is face shows Mongoloid features with a snub nose, high cheek bones, small forehead, and oblique eyes (suits beautifully the name by which Shiva is also referred, Virupaksa – he with oblique eyes).

Gudimallam lingam . Photo from wiki
The grinning apasmarapurusa , Gudimallam lingam. Photo from google
ShivaGudimallam lingam. Photo from google

The other ancient most linga is from Bhita (hence referred to as the Bhita linga), and has been described in details by Rakhal Das Banerji. As per his writings the top of this linga is in the form of a male bust holding a vase in his left hand, while the right one shows abhaya mudra. Below the bust are four heads facing four corners. The top male bust is seen wearing a cloth thrown over the left shoulder. In front, immediately below the two heads, the phallus is marked by deeply drawn lines. The lower part of the linga is shaped as a tenon to be fitted into a mortice. It is very clear from the description that this is a panchamukhalinga, depicting the fives faces of Shiva, which are Isana, Tatpurusha, Aghora, Vamadeva, and Sadyojata. There is an inscription at the base that gives the details of the donor’s name, and from study of which with the help of the used characters RD Banerji placed the linga to be of the 1st c. BCE.

Bhita linga , 1st c. BCE, Lucknow museum

Besides the Bhita and Gudimallam lingas, there is another red sandstone linga from Mathura housed at the Lucknow museum belonging to the Kushan era that shows a decorative band separating the upper segment from middle, and another linga from a slightly later date that is a huge stone sculpture housed in the Mathura museum and it shows three distinctive sections (lower, middle, and top) of the shivlinga.

The Gudimallam and Bhita lingas are unique in the sense they represent the combined mode of depicting Shiva both as human as well as the phallic form, giving rise to the concept of mukhalingas, which were popular in the Kushana era (early Common era period in the Mathura region).

Chaturmukha linga with a decorative band, Kushana era. National Museum, Delhi.

Sivalingas can be of various types, though broadly divided into two classes: chala lingas (movable ones); and achala or sthira lingas (immovable ones, such as the ones in heavy stones which we see in temple sanctums). The chala lingas can be categorised into mrinmaya (made of earth), lohaja (metal made), ratnaja (made of precious stones), daruja (wooden ones), sailaja (stone made ones), and kshanika lingas (made for some occasion and disposed off immediately afterwards). The achala lingas also known as sthira lingas or dhruva lingas, as per the Makutagama can be classified into four types: Daivika, Arsaka, Ganapa, and Manusa. The Kamikagama classifies them into six types: Swambhu, Daivika, Arsaka, Ganapatya, Manusa, and Banalingas. Besides the swambhu or the natural ones that have a special significance of their own, the last two are the most important ones. Banalingas, like salagramas, are natural and found in particular river beds, mainly fished out from the river Reva or Narmada. Manusa are man-made lingas; comprising of three parts namely, Brahmabhaga (square lowest section), Vishnubhaga (octagonal middle part), and Rudrabhaga (topmost part, generally cylindrical); and they form the largest group of sthira lingas.

Parts of a Sthiralinga. image: wikipedia
Ekmukha linga, Gupta era. National Museum Delhi.

Mukhalingas, which are a part of the Manusalingas, show faces on the rudra or puja bhaga, denoting the various aspects of Shiva. The number of faces shown can vary from 5, 4, 3, or 1 (as per Karanagama), and a mukhalinga with four faces should have the faces facing four directions; a mukhalinga with three faces should not have a face at the back; while a mukhalinga with one face should have the face placed a little high up and be front facing. In a four faced mukhalinga the western face should be white, northern should be red, southern face black and angry, while the eastern face should be of the colour of a well lit fire (Rupamandana). The five faces of Shiva termed as panchamukhalinga, stands for the five aspects of Shiva which are the Sadyajota, Vamadeva, Aghora, Tatpurusha, and Ishana (which is said to be incomprehensible even to the great Yogis; hence best left unrepresented). While Karanagama speaks of five faced Shiva using the term sarananam (sara is arrow, and number of arrows carried by Kamadeva is 5), it does not speak of the exact position of the fifth face. Rupamandana does not mention a five faced Shiva because the fifth aspect is beyond the comprehension of any living being (pancamam ca tathesanam yoginamapyagocaram).

Rare representation of the Panchamukha linga of Shiva, 15th c. CE, Panchavaktra temple in Mandi, HP

Manusha Lingas can also be classified based on on measurements of the three sections, and they can also be classified on the basis of the varying ways in which the Rudrabhaga is carved. The latter classification consists of names such as Sahasralinga, Astottorasatalinga, Dharalinga, etc. Dharalinga has fluted facets with the number of facets varying between 5, 7, 9, 12, 16, 24, and 28 (Suprabhedagama). Astottorsatalinga and Sahasralingas, as the names suggest, have 108 and 1000 little lingas respectively carved on the Rudrabhaga of the main linga.

Dhara linga with Som Skanda on the back wall panel, Shore temple, Mahabalipuram.
Sahasralinga, Someswara temple, Kolanapaka, Telengana.

Coomaraswamy in his essay described an interesting late Kushan era Shiva of Mathura , wherein Shiva is shown standing on one side of a long pillar like emblem. He is four armed, where his front two hands are in katihasta and abhaya mudras, and the two back hands are placed on his jatas. Shiva on columnar altars are mentioned in the Mahabharata in the Kiratarjuniya parva, and Asvatthama parva where Asvatthama tries entering the Pandava camp, and these scenarios remind one of the Lingodbhavamurti of Shiva, so commonly seen on the walls of the south Indian temples.

Lingodbhava murti of Shiva, Brihadeswara temple, Thanjavur

Shiva is represented in two, four, or multi armed human forms on temple walls in various ways, which can be broadly categorised into two: the ugra and saumya forms. The various aspects of Shiva that we see on temple walls are Chandrasekhara, Umasajita, Alingana Candrasekhara, Vrshvahana, Uma Mahesvara, Som Skanda, Dakshinamurti (of various types), Ganga avtarana, Nataraja, Sadashiva, Mahasadashiva, Mahesamurti, Lakulisha, Bhairava, Aghora, Virbhadra, Virupaksa, Kankalamurti, Bhiksatana, Hari-Hara, Ardhnariswara, Gajasurasamharamurti, Andhakasuravadhmurti, Jalandhara, Tripurantaka, Kalanataka, Anugraha murtis, Sarabhesamuti, along with many more.

Given below are some of the images of Shiva in human forms depicting his various aspects:

Shiva, Gandhara, 2nd c. CE. Third eye is horizontal here.
Shiva and Parvati, early Gupta period. Kausambi. Now at the Indian Museum (Kolkata). Here again the third eye of Shiva is horizontal.
Shiva, 3rd century CE,  Ahichchhatra. LACMA
Shiva at the Elephanta Caves, Maharashtra. 6th century CE. Wikipedia
Uma MahesvaraHalebeeduImage by Jay Shankar
Halebeedu , Image by Jay Shankar
Halebeedu , Image by Jay Shankar
Nataraja, Image by Jay Shankar
Tadipatri, Image by Jay Shankar
Bhiksatana murti, 7th c. CE Kailashnathar temple in Kanchi
Dakshinamurti, 7th c. CE Kailashnathar, Kanchi
Tripurantaka, Shore temple, 8th c. CE, Mahabalipuram
Som-Skanda murti, Shore Temple, 8th c. CE, Mahabalipuram.
Kalantaka or Kalarimurti, 11th c. CE Brihadeswara temple, GKC
Jalandhara Shiva, 7th c. CE, Kailashnathar temple in Kanchi
Urdhavatandava, Nrtyamurti Shiva with his Nandi7th c. CE, Kailshnathar temple in Kanchi
Chandeshanugrahamurti, 11th c. CE, Brihadeswara temple, GKC
Aghora murti, 12th c. CE, Cholas, Airavateswara temple,
Ardhanariswara, 10th century, Khajuraho, Chandella DynastyWiki
MahaSadaShiva from Parel, Mumbai. 6th c. CE. At the bottom are the Ganas, while the 3 Shiva murtis in the centre form a column depicting the fiery burning lingam of the Lingodbhava murti, with 4 Shiva murtis emerging from the side of this central column.
Sarabhesamuti, 12th c. CE, Airavatesvara temple- Darasuram.
Shiva Parvati, 13th c. CE, Odisha. British Museum.
Ardhanareeswarar in bronze, Chola era, Chennai Museum. Photo by Jay Shankar.

This article is written by Monidipa Bose Dey. You can read her blog here.


T.A. Gopinath Rao, Elements of Hindu iconography, vol. 2 part 1.

J. Allan, Catalogue of Coins in Ancient India in the British museum.

Cunningham , Coins of Ancient India.

ASI reports by Cunningham and J. Marshall.

Opposition to intercaste-marriage in Hinduism

The reason for opposition to intercaste-marriage in Hinduism is stated in the Shrîmad Bhagavadgîtâ.

Though these(the Kauravas & their allies) whose intelligence is stricken by greed, perceive no evil in the extinction of lineages & no sin in treachery to friends, yet O Janârdana, shouldn’t we who clearly see evil in the extinction of a lineage, learn to refrain from this sinful deed ? On the extinction of a lineage, the immemorial dharmas of that lineage(kuladharma) disappear. When the kuladharmas disappear, impiety(adharma) overtakes the whole lineage. By the prevalence of impiety, O Krishna, the women of the lineage become corrupt. With the women corrupted, there will be varna-sankaras, O descendent of Vrishni ! Sankaras also leads the lineage of these destroyer of lineage to hell; for their forefathers fall down to hell, on extinction of the offerings of pinda & water to them. By these evil deeds of the destroyers of lineages which cause varna-sankara, the eternal dharma of all castes & lineages are subverted. We have heard O Janârdana, that men whose kuladharmas have been subverted, always reside in hell.[Bhagavadgîta:1:38-44]

Yet intercaste marriage is prevalent. Satyavati, born of the semen of a Kshatriya King placed within a fish & raised by a fisherman, was impregnated by Sage Parâshara, who was a Brahmin & their son, Sage Krishnadwaipâyana Vedavyâsa is revered as an incarnation of Bhagavâna Vishnu.

The chapters 13 & 14 of the Uttarakhanda of the Brihaddharma Purâna states that the higly irreligious king Vena forced people of one caste to have sex with those of other castes, in defiance of the existing laws, thereby creating the first varna-sankaras. His son Prithu assigned specific profession to those varna-sankara & prohibited further intercaste-union. The varna-sankaras were classified into :

● the superior varna-sankaras formed by the union of any 2 of the 4 original castes(Brâhmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya & Shûdra)

● the intermediate varna-sankaras formed by the union of a varna-sankara with any one of the 4 original castes.

● the inferior varna-sankaras formed by the union of persons of 2 different varna-sankaras & to some extent those who were born due to a lower caste man impregnating an upper caste woman. Incidentally, it includes groups like chandâlas who are considered as untouchables.

Some varna-sankaras were classified as Sat-Shûdras i.e they had the same status as that of Shûdras & Brâhmanas were allowed to interact with them. The Manusmriti (10:99-100) allowed Shûdras to take the profession of artisans in times of distress but artisan communities like masons, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, potters, tailors, basket-weavers, barbers etc were considered as varna-sankaras. This clearly diluted the difference between a Shûdra & a Sat-Shûdra now that they shared the same social status & profession. Prohibition over marrying outside one’s own caste was observed only by the those communities who were considered superior in their regions & the untouchables.

According to the Baudhâyana Dharmasûtras (1:17:3-5), the offspring of a Brâhmana man & Kshatriya woman, a Kshatriya man & Vaishya woman becomes a Brâhmana & a Kshatriya respectively. Offsprings of all other intercaste-marriages are considered vrâtyas, who are excluded from the rites of being initiated in the Gâyatrî mantra, & hence by default, became Shûdras, if not untouchables.

So it can be concluded that intercaste-marriage marriage is allowed (if not frowned upon) under very restricted circumstances, but endogamy is highly appreciated for all castes.