Vedic chanting as householder’s meditation practice in Tamil Åšaiva Siddhānta tradition

July 19th, 20107:41 am Published by



This paper presents the historyof Vedic chanting as householder's meditation practice within the Tamil Śaiva Siddhānta tradition. Distinguishing philosphical foundation of Śaiva Siddhānta tradition from the tradition of Vedanta the paper presents how certain Tamil non-Brahmin castes approach Kriṣṇa Yajur Veda for their daily meditation practice. As this tradition emphasizes the importance of mental worship as opposed to external worship carried out in the form of festivals and rituals, and also because the tradition evaluates advancement in the practice as a gradual abandonment of prayer elements and ritual components the paper argues that this practice should be seen as a practice of meditation. Elaborating on the mixing of several traditions contributing to the contemporary form of this practice, the paper further presents the two nuanced differences within the tradition: one approaches Kriṣṇa Yajur Veda purely as a set of sacred sounds and another approaches it as sacred sound with profound meanings. Both the practices aim towards attaining communion with Śiva a state of consciousness which is beyond the known states of sleeping, waking, or dreaming. Tamil Śaiva Siddhānta's position is that when such merging of self with God takes place neither of them lose their quality of infinity.

Keywords: Śaiva Siddhānta, Kriṣṇa Yajur Veda, Vedic chanting, sacred sound, Tamil, Tamilnadu, Srirudram, Sadarudriyam, Rudraoupaniṣad

Vedic chanting as householder’s meditation practice in Tamil Åšaiva Siddhānta tradition has a long and complex history of negotiations between Sanskrit and Tamil, Ä€gamas and Vedas, temple and household, self and God, cosmos and human body, and sound and meaning. As philosophical systems differed in their interpretations of the relationships between these binaries, so were the practices, their acceptance, popularity, secrecy, and beliefs in their efficacy. While the manifold complexities of contradictory and often competitive factions make the unilinear history of this meditation practice difficult to encompass, the survival of the practice in contemporary Tamilnadu through oral transmission points in the direction of a maze of interwoven texts, temples, oral discourses, and family practices. Central to this heritage is the Kriṣṇa Yajur Veda in the passages of which the Pañcāká¹£ara mantra (na ma Å›i va ya), the holiest of the holy mantras for the adherents of the Åšaiva Siddhānta tradition occurs for the first time.

The fourth chapter of Yajur Veda Taittria Saṃhita known by the names, Srirudram, Sadarudriyam or Rudraoupaniá¹£ad is not the exclusive claim of the adherents of Tamil Åšaiva Siddhānta. In fact on the one hand Srirudram is considered to be one of the canonical texts on par with Bhagavad GÄ«tā for all Hindus and on the other hand many of the monolingual Tamil adherents of Åšaiva Siddhānta may not even know that there exists a vibrant tradition of chanting Srirudram as the householder's meditation practice. Srirudram is also the popular chant that is used in daily rituals of Åšiva temples, in Vedic Homas, and Yajñas. I use the word 'meditation' to designate this householder's practice in preference to the use of the word 'ritual' because the tradition emphasizes the 'Ä€tmārta pÅ«jā' internal worship in contrast to 'parārtha pÅ«jā'' the external worship carried out in the form of rituals and festivals in temples. The other reason for considering this householder's practice as meditation is that the tradition evaluates the advancement in the practice as the gradual abandonment of the ritual elements and prayer components of the practice and gaining proficiency in Ajapa japa, non-utterance of the mantra yet listening and being one with the sacred sound. While Samādhi is the commonplace word used to describe the ultimate goal of the meditation practice, Tamil Åšaiva Siddhānta uses the phrase TurÄ«ya Turîyaṃ to describe the final goal and state of the consciousness which is beyond the three known states of sleeping, waking, and dreaming. The gradual growing in silence is also equating and merging the self of the practitioner with the God meditated upon. It is a process of realizing self as God. While this is the ultimate goal of this complex meditation practice the differing philosophical foundations and their consequent interpretations have given rise to differences in the daily practices.

Recent scholarship ( Sanderson 2009, Davis 2009) dates the integration of Sanskrit and Tamil, Ä€gamas and Vedas, temple worship and householder's practice in Tamilnadu to twelfth century when (the proverbial author of the authoritative Ä€gama text Kriyakramadyotikā) AghoraÅ›iva took up the task of amalgamating Sanskrit and Tamil Siddhānta. Strongly refuting Sankara's heritage of monist interpretations of Siddhānta, AghoraÅ›iva brought a change in the understanding of the Godhood by reclassifying the first five principles of Åšaiva Siddhānta namely Nāda (sound), Bindu (the bodily mystical point where fluid of immortality flows), Sadāśiva( the ever revealing grace of the primal soul), Èsvara (Supreme God) and Suddhavidya (pure knowledge), into the category of pācam (bondage), stating they were effects of a cause and inherently unconscious substances, a departure from the traditional Vedantic teaching in which these five were part of the divine nature of God.

AghoraÅ›iva was successful in preserving the Sanskrit rituals of the ancient Ä€gamic tradition. To this day, AghoraÅ›iva’s Siddhānta philosophy is followed by almost all of the hereditary temple priests (Åšivācāryas), and his texts on the Ä€gamas have become the standard ritual manuals. His Kriyakramadyotikā is a vast work covering nearly all aspects of Åšaiva Siddhānta ritual, including initiation, worldly duties, householder's meditation and worship, and installation of deities.

In the thirteenth century MeykaṇṭatÄ“var and his student Aruḷnandi Åšivācārya further spread Tamil Åšaiva Siddhānta. MeykaṇṭatÄ“var wrote Civa-ñāṉa-pōtam (“Understanding of the Knowledge of Åšiva”) Aruḷnandi Åšivācārya wrote Åšiva-jñāna-siddhiyār (“Attainment of the Knowledge of Åšiva”), Umāpati's Åšivaprakāśam (“Lights on Åšiva”) in the 14th century, ÅšrÄ«kaṇṭha's commentary on the Vedānta-sÅ«tras (14th century), and Appaya DÄ«ká¹£ita's commentary thereon established the continuity of the tradition. MeykaṇṭatÄ“var's Civa-ñāṉa-pōtam and subsequent works by other writers laid the foundation of the MeykaṇṭatÄ“var's Tamil tradition, which propounds a pluralistic realism wherein God, souls, and world are coexistent and without beginning. Åšiva is an efficient but not material cause. They view the soul’s merging in Åšiva as salt would dissolve in water, an eternal oneness that is also twoness. The source literature of the Åšaiva-siddhānta school consists of the Ä€gamas, and Tamil devotional hymns written by Åšaiva saints but collected by Nambi (c. AD 1000) in a volume known as Tirumurai.

From the turn of the twentieth century to the mid twentieth century a vast corpus of Tamil texts with Sanskrit originals were published in Tamilnadu by the various adherents of Tamil Śaiva Siddhānta. The publishers were independent religious practitioners, Śaivite monasteries, scholars, and landlords. Journals and books were also published as part of the celebrations of life cycle ceremonies such as marriages and on the occasions of temple festivals. These publications had a very profound impact on the way the householder's meditation practice charted its course through the twentieth century. Smartha Brahmins, hereditary temple priests of Śiva temples, and Śaiva Siddhāntins belonging to the non-Brahmin caste groups of Caiva Veḷaḷar , Caiva Mutaliyār, and Caiva Cetṭiyar are the prominent practitioners and inheritors of the tradition of chanting Srirudram as their household meditation practice in contemporary Tamilnadu today. While Smartha Brahmins adhere to the monism of the Sankara school of Vedanta, hereditary Śivācāryas, and the non-Brahmin Śaiva Siddhāntins owe allegiance to a pluralistic view of the world.

It is generally considered1 that the Vedantin's practice of Vedic chanting consists of hearing scripture (śravaṇa), reflection (manana), and contemplation or meditation (nididhyāsana). However Sankara in his commentary of Bṛhadāraṇyakaoupaniṣad2 clearly states that allocating three separate categories for hearing, reflecting, and meditating is meaningless. This is because this commentary is also where Sankara develops his main themes of philosophical monism such as the oneness of the self and God, the world of name and form, the sufficiency of knowledge alone for release. As a consequence the Vedantin's way of Vedic chanting foregrounds the knowledge that the self and God are one and the same and so the act of Vedic chanting or the meditation on the sacred sound is to demonstrate the oneness rather than it being the means to achieve it. So the Smartha Brahmin who chants Kriṣṇa Yajur Veda in his household has to first of all ask the permission of Śiva to worship Him outside himself on any sacred object such as Linga or the statue of the deity.

In variance to the Vedantin's view that the knowledge is alone is enough for the realization of the self the Åšaiva Siddhāntin believes that proper action needs to be initiated in order to realize the self as God. Chanting Kriṣṇa Yajur Veda is an important act in the life of Åšaiva Siddhāntin where he enters into the processes of reabsorption of the self into God. The five divine manifestations of the God are said to be the five faces of Åšiva where the face looking upward is Īśāna, "ruler" (the power of revelation), the one facing east is Tatpuruá¹£a, "supreme soul" (the power of obscuration), westward looking is Sadyojata, "quickly giving birth" (the power of creation), northward is Vāmadeva, "lovely, pleasing" (the power of preservation) and southward is Aghora, "non-terrifying" (the power of reabsorption). Attributing meaning to directionality is the contribution of Ä€gamic tradition and the householder’s practice of Vedic chanting is no different from the chanting that is done in the temple rituals. As Åšaiva Ä€gamas accord importance to the placements of deities and their directionality in the temples a parallel is always drawn between the cosmos, temple and the human body all of which are believed to share the same internal architecture. The all-pervasive sound as the mediator and the unifying feature help elevate the consciousness to a different level of shimmering luminosity where the practitioner realizes his own self as the God.

Of all the Vedic chants Srirudram is the one which has the most elaborate ways of distributing and designating sounds on the bodily parts3. Mahā Nyāsa , the big or the great way of designating sounds on the bodily parts and Laghu Nyāsa , the easy or the quick way of assigning sounds are the two ways in which the Srirudram is distributed prior to the beginning of the actual chanting. While Mahā Nyāsa is done mainly on the occasions such as Mahā Rudrā yajña, the great Rudrā Vedic sacrifice, Laghu Nyāsa is mainly practiced by the householders. The Nyāsa component of the Vedic chanting correlates and establishes equivalences between sounds, deities, and bodily parts. This preparation towards the chanting is believed to embody, capture, and facilitate the process of reabsorption elaborated in Åšaiva Siddhānta and the practice is believed to have its roots in PurvamÄ«māṃsā and tantric texts. Immediately after invoking the grace of the particular deities on the bodily parts, Srirudam's Laghu Nyāsa celebrates the self as the God and how the rhythm of the self and cosmos composed of the five elements (fire, air, earth, sky, and water) are interrelated. Body, mind, energy or breath, senses, and awareness are said to be in a rhythm and the Laghu Nyāsa while praying for their mutual nourishment, also brings their interrelationship to the attention of the practitioner. Generally for all chanting the Nyāsa component serves the function of purification4 of the body and makes it ready for the ritual process. As the Laghu Nyāsa process plays a very important role in the meditation practice of this tradition it is important to read through the verses associated with it and relate them subsequently to verses of the main chanting. In this section of chanting there are two parts: the first part commences with invoking of deities to stay in different parts of the body and the second part is more about the universal rhythm.

In the first part of the Laghu Nyāsa the chant aids the meditator to visualize himself as Rudrā , the worshipful form of Åšiva. The mental movement from the first section of the Laghu Nyāsa to the second section can be described as the meditator moving from the deities to elements of nature embedded in the human body. The visualization starts with the chant describing Rudrā as having the crystal clear color, three eyes, five faces, river Ganges on his matted hair, snake as his sacred thread, tiger skin as his clothes, bluish black neck, having Uma as his half body and one who is bathed with nectar. Immediately after the visualization the chant moves towards invoking deities on the bodily parts of the meditator who is visualizing himself as Rudrā , the Åšiva. 'On the breath is Brahma, on the feet is Viṣṇu, on the hands are hara'- is the progression of the chant which ends with praying to all the deities to bless the meditator. Since the second part is considered to be very important in this tradition it is fully given below: “agnirmÄ“ vāci Å›ritaḥ, vāg-há¹›dayÄ“, há¹›dāyaṃ mayÄ«, aham amá¹›tÄ“, amá¹›taṃ brahmaṇi (may fire nourish speech, speech nourish the heart, heart nourish my self, let my self nourish what is eternal/nectar (God) in me, the eternal in me nourish the eternal everywhere), vāyur-mÄ“ prāṇe Å›ritah, prāṇo há¹›dayÄ“, há¹›dayaṃ mayÄ«, aham- amá¹›tÄ“, amá¹›taṃ brahmaṇi (may air nourish the vital breath, vital breath nourish heart, heart nourish my self, my self nourish that which is eternal in me, the eternal in me nourish the eternal everywhere) sÅ«ryomÄ“ caká¹£uá¹£i Å›ritaḥ, caká¹£ur-há¹›dayÄ“, há¹›dayaṃ mayÄ«, aham amá¹›tÄ“, amá¹›taṃ brahmaṇi (may sun nourish sight, sight nourish heart, heart nourish my self, my self nourish that which is eternal in me, the eternal in my self nourish the eternal everywhere) candra-mā me manasi Å›ritaḥ, mano há¹›dayÄ“, há¹›dayaṃ mayÄ«, aham-amá¹›tÄ“, amá¹›taṃ brahmaṇi (may moon nourish mind, mind nourish heart, heart nourish my self, my self nourish, that which is eternal in me, the eternal in me nourish the eternal everywhere,) diÅ›o mÄ“ Å›rotre Å›ritāḥ, Å›ro-tragṃ há¹›dayÄ“, há¹›dayaṃ mayÄ«, aham-amá¹›tre, amá¹›taṃ brahmaṇi (may space nourish hearing, hearing nourish heart, heart nourish my self, my self nourish that which is eternal in me, the eternal in me nourish eternal everywhere) āpo me retasi Å›ritāḥ, reto há¹›dayÄ“, há¹›dayaṃ mayÄ«, aham amá¹›tÄ“, amá¹›taṃ brahmaṇi ( may water nourish creation, creation nourish, heart, heart nourish my self, my self nourish that which is eternal in me, the eternal in me nourish the eternal everywhere)

Illustration 1: Depiction of sound and deities on the bodily parts- Tantric painting

pṛthi-vī me śarīre śritā, śarī-ragṃ hṛdayē, hṛdayaṃ mayī, aham amṛtē, amṛtaṃ brahmaṇi (may earth nourish the body, body nourish the heart, heart nourish the self, my self nourish that which is eternal in me, the eternal in me nourish the eternal everywhere) oṣadhi-vanaspa-tāyo me lomāsu śritāḥ, lomāni hṛdayē, hṛdayaṃ mayī, aham amṛte, amṛtaṃ brahmaṇi (may herbs nourish hair, hair nourish heart, heart nourish my self, my self nourish that is which eternal in my self, the eternal in me nourish the eternal everywhere) indrō me balē śritaḥ, ba-lagṃ hṛdayē, hṛdayaṃ mayī, aham amṛte, amṛtaṃ brahmaṇi (may power nourish strength, strength nourish heart, heart nourish my self, my self nourish that which is eternal in me, the eternal in me nourish the eternal everywhere) punārma ātmā puna-rāyu-rāgāt (Finally the atman which is omnipresent is invoked as the source of everything) punā-prāna-puna-rākūta-māgāt (we beseech the atman to bestow long life, to let the prana stay within, to let the mind be controlled) vai-śvānaro raśmi-bhirvā-vṛ-dhānaḥ (to the the fire and the light grow, to let the digestion be well) anta-stiṣṭha-tvamṛtāsya gopāḥ (That the protector of wisdom may be well established in us)

Laghu Nyāsa hymn establishes for the Åšaiva Siddhāntin that the individual soul of a person is identical with Åšiva; recognition of this identity is essential to liberation. The process of arriving at the identical nature of individual soul with that of Åšiva is through a conception of human body which has the natural elements such as sun, moon, earth, and air constituting bodily parts and influencing their functionalities. Laghu Nyāsa hymn also confirms the Åšaiva Siddhāntin's view that heart is the most important place in the human body for the sacred sounds to vibrate and create the channel for Åšiva, the Brahman to reveal himself and dissolve the individual soul with himself. While the centrality of heart in the Nyasa process is not unique to this tradition and it is common to all anga (body) and kara (hand) Nyāsa processes of all Vedic chanting6 , it assumes great importance within the Åšaiva Siddhānta tradition because here Åšiva is seen as the most graceful, loving, and all giving God7 . Through His grace and love He reabsorbs the soul into His fold. The several schools of Åšaiva thought, ranging from pluralistic realism to absolute monism agree in recognizing three principles: pati, Åšiva, the Lord; paÅ›u, the individual soul; and pāśa, the bonds that confine the soul to earthly existence. The goal set for the soul is to get rid of its bonds and gain Å›ivatva (“the nature of Åšiva”). The paths leading to this goal are caryā (external acts of worship), kriyā (acts of intimate service to God), yoga (meditation), and jñāna (knowledge). Householder’s Vedic chanting is at once an act of external worship and an internal meditation.

The second step in chanting Srirudram is to pay tribute to the sages who composed the chants and to distribute the primal sounds (bījākṣara) on the body. The difference between the first part of the Laghu Nyāsa distribution of sounds and this part is that in Laghu Nyāsa one is to mentally concentrate and focus on the bodily parts while saying names of the deities invoked on that particular part, here in this section the meditator has to touch the body while chanting the verses. Designating primal sounds of the chant on the fingers and on the bodily parts is also known by the name Viniyogaḥ Yoga (Yoga of distribution). For Srirudram sage Aghora is said to be the author and the chant begins by touching the head with the middle and ring finger of the right hand while mentioning his name. When the cadence of the chant (in this case the meter is anuṣṭubh) is uttered the meditator has to touch the tip of the nose and when Rudrā 's name is uttered the meditator has to touch the middle of his heart to establish him firmly there.

The distribution of the bÄ«jāká¹£ara mantra recognizes the “na ma Å›i va ya” as the base sacred sounds on which the entire chant is constructed. While recognizing the base sacred sounds of the chant the practitioner has to touch the right hand shoulder with the closure of right ring finger and the thumb. Similarly while recognizing “Å›ivatharayeti” (the grace of Åšiva) as the power of the chant the practitioner has to touch the left hand shoulder with the closure of the right ring finger and the thumb. An imaginary inverted triangle is drawn and completed when the recognition process completes with the touching of the navel when uttering the name “mahā devá” (great god). The distribution continues on the five fingers of the hands and touching of chest, head, nape, eyes, finally again establishing Åšiva in the heart, and creating a firm relationship with him. Going beyond the initial function of purification process this distribution of mantras on the fingers and body spreads out the grace of Åšiva on the body of the practitioner.

Immediately after the distribution of both the sounds and the grace the practice calls for visualization on the all-pervasive quality of Śiva. This portion of the chant is called dhyāna8 (meditation), the intense quality of it will determine the flow of the entire chanting of Srirudram which is to follow it. The visualization is complemented by offerings of sacred primal sounds that signify primordial elements of nature. The primal sounds9 'lam' ( signifying earth), 'ham' (sky), 'yam' (air), 'ram' (fire), 'vām' (nectar), and 'saṃ' (all pervasive) are submitted along with flowers, lighting of lamps and incense sticks, and food items. If the meditator is to be imagining himself to be Śiva one might legitimately ask how he is offering and submitting the sounds and the other materials. This interplay of outside and inside is one of the qualities of this meditation process as the meditator becomes aware of both the all-pervasive nature of Śiva and at the same times his uniqueness within the omnipresence. As already indicated the One not subsuming the other is one of the important philosophical positions of Śaiva Siddhānta in contrast to the Vedantin's position of absolute monism.

After these preparation towards the chanting what follows is the customary invocation of Ganapati and a passage from the second part of Srirudram known by the name “Chamakam”. The purpose of chanting the third stanza from Chamakam is believed to be for invoking peace. The third stanza of Chamakam prominently asks for all the worldly successes and benefits from the grace of Åšiva. For the adherents of Åšaiva Siddhānta this world is not to be denied and dismissed as illusory but to be accepted as a facet of godliness. So the long life, material prosperity, friendships, mornings filled with thoughts on god, ability to extract work from the servants, and healthy life are all within the scope of achieving communion with Åšiva. With this preparation the actual chanting of Srirudram begins.

Srirudram is in two parts. The first part, chapter 16 of the Yajurveda, is known as Namakam because of the repeated use of the word "Namo" in it. The second part, chapter 18 of the Yajurveda, is known as Chamakam because of the repeated use of the words "Chame". Rudram is divided into 11 sections called Anuvākas. Both Namakam and Chamakam have great rhythmic sounds and chanting them appropriately is believed to create auspicious vibrations in the house. Many householders approach chanting of Srirudram merely as sacred sound and many practitioners do not even know the meaning of all the verses contained therein10 . Many do not have formal training, knowledge, or education in Sanskrit. Their way of learning Vedic chanting is either partly as a family tradition or from publications that transliterate Sanskrit verses in Tamil. With the Sanskrit verses written in Tamil the practitioners memorize the verses completely and over the years of daily practice in the early morning hours the chanting becomes an everyday routine for many of them. Because the fidelity of the sound is more important than the meaning of the word chanted the practitioners take real efforts to pronounce Sanskrit words accurately. Very few practitioners begin to reflect on the meaning of the chant at their advanced ages and even then the correctness of the pronunciation assumes more importance than the meaning. TaittriaUpaniṣad which teaches the science of pronunciation (siksha) is very much part of the tradition of practicing Vedic chanting at homes. It deals with sound, pitch, quantity, force, modulation and combination of sounds. The teachings of Taittria Upanishad are preserved in the practices in such a way that the practitioners who approach Vedic chants as pure sacred sounds believe that they affect the breath (prāṇa) and since it affects the regulation of breath the meditating practitioner automatically benefits out of the everyday chanting and as the practice matures one begins to enjoy physical and mental health. For the practice to mature it is often prescribed that one chants from the throat rather than from the mouth. The cadence, pitch, and force need to be learned from an experienced teacher, or from the father or maternal uncle who is a practitioner. While it is common for fathers to initiate their male children into Vedic chanting when they reach seven years of age, many also prefer to employ proficient teachers for their children's initiation and subsequent training. When the Vedic chanting is taught as a householder's ritual, prayer, and meditation technique to the child it is taught as an eighteen step process. The eighteen steps are purification of the body through water, purification of the body and mind through bodily designation of sounds, prayer to Ganapati for removal of obstacles in the process, declaration of the intention to complete the chanting and its objectives, inviting benign forces, inviting Śiva to present himself, visualizing self as Śiva while chanting, paying obeisance to Śiva, offering incense, food, sacred leaves, flowers and light, submitting sacred primal sounds, asking for boons, and finally bidding farewell. For those adherents who approach Srirudram as pure sacred sounds Namakam, the first part is meant to elevate the consciousness and transport the practitioner to another world and Chamkam, the second part is to bring the practitioner back to the normal everyday world. In other words, these two parts are believed to be complementary auditory systems that would bring about a healthy equilibrium to the body and the mind of the practitioner. Further peace and rhythm between body and the cosmos are achieved by supplementing the Srirudram with that of five sacred Vedic hymns (Puruṣa sūktaṃ, Narayana sūktaṃ, Viṣṇu sūktaṃ, Durga sūktaṃ, and Sri sūktaṃ) and ending with all auspicious chant of Mantra puṣpaṃ. While this sequencing of Vedic chants is common to the Srirudram chanting in the Śiva temples and the households, in the household practice the practitioner is at the liberty to skip the supplementary hymns and go directly to Mantra Pushpam. Whatever the choice of the practitioners it is mandatory for them to sing a Tamil hymn from Tirumurai before completing the sequence with Mantra puṣpaṃ. For those who approach Srirudram only as a set of sacred sounds the Tamil hymn provides the comfort of meaning.

Adherents, who meditate on the meaning of Srirudram, go through the process of mastering the chant with perfect pronunciation. It is believed that one is capable of meditating on the meaning of Srirudram only after years of practicing the chant on daily basis. When the practitioner reaches his middle age his teacher further initiates him into the meaning of Srirudram. It is believed that the meaning of Srirudram will reveal itself to the practitioners only through the grace of the teacher.

For those who were initiated into the Vedic chanting through their fathers or maternal uncles the families guide them to seek a guru at the appropriate time of necessity in their lives. Alternatively the families adhere themselves to Śaivite monasteries which act as seat of guru and guide the practitioners in understanding the meaning of Srirudram. The practitioners are not encouraged to seek the literal translated meaning of the text of Srirudram in the first place; instead they are asked to read all texts of Tamil Tirumurai, go to Śiva temples regularly, participate in the temple rituals and festivals, learn about the different temple myths, attend discourses on Śaiva Siddhānta, involve themselves in charitable activities, and consult their gurus periodically. The guru assesses the progress of the practitioner by

(A page from Sanskrit Srirudam written with tamil script used by practitioners)

judging changes in the quality of voice of the practitioner,his attitudes, the acuteness of his need to realize God, and his growing capacity for love. When the guru decides that the practitioner has reached the appropriate stage of reception he would ask him first of all to reflect on the interconnectedness of natural elements and life forms on the earth and see the interconnectedness as the rhythm of the cosmos. In the second stage of the guidance the guru would ask the practitioner whether he can recognize the the rhythm of the cosmos as love and grace of Åšiva. Simultaneously the practitioner would be asked to abandon the the physical ritual activities such as bathing the Åšivalinga, or showing the lamp to the deity while chanting and to do such activities mentally visualizing them. The practitioner should be able to do all the sixteen ritual activities while chanting Srirudram purely by imagining or visualizing them before he can be considered for the next stage of instruction. When the guru is satisfied with the capacity of the practitioner in visualizing all activities he will ask him to reflect on the meaning of Srirudam along with worldly benefits he would acquire by the chanting of each of the stanzas. I attach below the standard English translation of Srirudram available to the practitioners in Tamil11:

In the first Anuvāka (stanza) Rudrā is asked to turn away his Ghōra rÅ«pa (fierce appearance) and to please keep his and his followers’ weapons at bay. Having been pacified, Rudrā is requested to destroy the sins of those for whom it is being chanted. Apart from being a hymn devoted to Lord , Srirudram also may contain hidden secrets in coded format. For example the verses contain coded instructions for preparing various ayurvedic medicines. This first stanza is chanted to destroy all sins, obtain leadership and divine benevolence, protection from famine, freedom from fear, obtain food, and protect cows, for deliverance from untimely fear of death, of tigers, thieves, from monsters, devils, demons. It is also chanted as a protection (kavacha) against virulent fever, diseases, fetal disorders, absolution from evils stars and bad karma, for the fulfillment of ones desires, sumptuous rainfall, family protection, blessings with good children, fulfillment of all material desires and the destruction of enemies.

In the second stanza Rudrā is prayed to as one who pervades the earth and as the green foliage and heritage of medicinal herbs. He is asked to loosen the bonds of Saṃsāra (illusion). This stanza is chanted for the destruction of enemies, possession of wealth, getting kingdom and sharpening of intelligence.

In the third stanza Rudrā is described as the Lord of thieves who exists in everything. He is Sarvatma; the self of all. In this context, we who are unenlightened have stolen the immortal status of the Self and replaced it with our own limited conception of ego. And in turn it is Rudrā who will come and steal our ignorance from us, restoring us to our natural status of enlightenment.

In the fourth stanza Rudrā is described as the creator of everything in the universe and in the fifth Rudrā’s existence in running waters is praised and his five activities are described (creation of the universe, preservation of it, destruction at the time of Pralaya (deluge), bonding human beings in ignorance, and the ability to grant the boon of release or moksha). In the sixth stanza Rudrā is identified with time (KalarÅ«pa). He is described as the source of the different worlds, Åšrutis (Vedas) and its essence. The fifth and sixth stanzas are chanted for the expansion of one’s own assets, victory against enemies, blessings for a son with the stature of Rudrā , avoidance of a miscarriage and easy childbirth, and protection of one’s own progeny.

In the seventh stanza Rudrā 's all-pervading presence in waters, rains, clouds, storms and its various forms are described. This stanza is chanted for sharpening of intelligence, improvement in health, wealth, progeny, clothes, cows, sons, education, lands, longevity, and move towards liberation.

In the eighth stanza Rudrā is described as He who illumines other Gods and confers powers on them. He is seen as ever present in holy rivers and He who can absolve all sins. In the ninth stanza the strength and power of his attendants are celebrated because they illumine the gods and the world and control the forces of the universe. In the tenth stanza Rudrā is again asked to shed his fury and shower benevolence by his displaying his bow without arrows and to gracefully appear with his tiger skin on his body with pleasing countenance ready to shower boons upon his devotees. In the eleventh stanza Rudrā ’s accomplishments are profusely praised and his benevolence is invoked with unconditional salutations.

After praying and identifying Rudrā with everything in the Namakam, the Chamakam is recited, in which the devotee identifies himself with Śiva and asks him to grant variety of worldly success. Adherents of Śaiva Siddhānta interpret the Chamakam portion of the chant to mean that the creator makes no distinction between the things of the world and the other world. Both belong to him and desire born out of Virtue is really manifestation of divinity and Dharma. Chamakam furnishes completely the ideal of human happiness and defines it in the highest degree possible.

The idea of dharma is the focus of the meaning based meditation on Srirudram. The third stanza of Namakam describes Åšiva as the chief of thieves. While the benign interpretation has been to make Åšiva the thief of hearts, literal interpretation would say that as an all pervasive God Åšiva is everywhere including men and things considered evil. For the practitioners the third stanza of Namakam is to recognize that the dharma is distributed both good and evil for meanings to emerge in life. By meditating over this it is believed that evil can be won over and overcome in real life. The worldwide view is very similar to Yudhiṣṭhira famous saying in Mahābhārata: “Disasters have neither limit (maryāda) not cause; dharma distributes meaning to good and evil” (dharmas tu vibhaiaty artham ubhayoḥ puṇya -pāpayoḥ, c3.312.1)

When the guru recognizes that the practitioner has reached the stage where he can do the complete visualization mentally and has the ability to grasp the meaning of all pervasiveness of Śiva he may initiate the practitioner into the final stage of the meditation practice. As per the folklore surrounding this stage the guru may ask the practitioner to chant the entire Srirudram mentally while visualizing all the eighteen components of Śiva pūjā. To gain proficiency in this practice, the meditator has to sit in a comfortable position, close his eyes, lock his upper part of the mouth with his tongue (sambhavi mudrā), grit his teeth, and chant Srirudram mentally. The advancement in the practice will lead the practitioner to listen to the chanting unconsciously, without any effort on his part, and when he is completely silent. This stage of the meditator's heart involuntarily chanting Srirudram in its entirety is known by the name Ajapa-japa which also signifies the dance of Śiva. For the meditator then every breath becomes na ma śi va ya, every act becomes an act of Śiva pūjā, and the mind becomes the world of all auspicious Śiva. That is bliss.

1 See Dasgupta “[He] should try to understand correctly the true purport of the Upanisads (called sravana), and by arguments in favour of the purport of the Upanisads to strengthen his conviction as stated in the Upanisads (called manana) and then by nididhyasana (meditation) which includes all the Yoga processes of concentration, try to realize the truth as one.” (Dasgupta 1922, 1:490) 2 Jacqueline Suthren Hirst's article 'Strategies of interpretation: Samkara's commentary on 'Brhadaranyakopanisad' clearly establishes Sankara's view that the three categories are meaningless. 3 Designating sacred sounds of a chant on the bodily parts known as 'Nyasa' as preparation before the chant is common for many devotional chanting of Sahasranamas (one thousand names) of Viá¹£nu, Åšiva, and Lalita. 4 Purification of the body and mind through the designation of sound on the bodily parts is common to almost all chanting practices involving Sanskrit mantras. 5 I have closely followed the Paul Harvey's translation of the hymn available at  except that I have opted to use the word 'self' instead of 'me' for the word 'aham' 6 For instance the Vedic hymn Narayana suktam describes the heart as the location of God in the human body and all Nyāsa processes invariably ask for establishing a relationship with the heart through the Gayatri mantra, a vehicle for transporting offerings. 7 Tamil  Bhakthi (devotional) tradition recognizes the importance of intensity of love and related emotions as the means of achieving oneness with God and that is why Åšaiva Siddhānta accords the status of Tirumurai (sacred texts) to devotional literature on par with philosophical literature. 8 Having a dhyāna slokā (a verse for meditation) is common for all hymns used in paryers and also for traditions such as traditional sculpting, painting, and icon making for temples. 9 According to tantric texts and the beliefs attached to Sankara's  composition Soundarya Lahari the primal sounds have the power to energize the chakras (vital points of energy) in the body. 10 My informants are from the Caiva Veḷaḷar caste groups in Tirunelveli region of Tamilnadu. 11 This translation is based on the Tamil texts of Srirudram published by Ramakrishna mission. This book is used by most of the practitioners for memorizing Srirudram chanting through Tamil scripts


Primary Sources

Anna 2003: Srirudram. Ramakrishna Mission Press, Mylapore Chennai.

Puvai. Kalyanasundarayatheenthirar 1931: Siddhānta Kattalai Thiratu. Poomagalvilasa Publishers, Chennai.

Suresh.K. 2002: Srirudra Ghanam. Latha, Mandaveli Chennai.

Works Cited

Arunachalam M. 1983: The Åšaivagamas. Gandhi Vidayalam, Mayuram.

Dasgupta S.N. 1922: History of Indian Philosophy Volume V, Calcutta

Davis, Richard,,2009: A Priest's Guide for the Great Festival Aghoraśiva's Mahotsavavidhi, Oxford University Press.

Fuller C.J. 2001: Orality, Literature, and Memorization: Priestly Education in Contemporary South India in Modern Asia Studies, 35, 1 2001 PP 1-31, Cambridge University Press U.K.

Hirst, Jacqueline. 1996: “Strategies of Interpretation: Samkara's Commentary on 'Brhadaranyakopanisad' ” The Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 116, 1996

Sanderson, Alexis. 2009: The Åšaiva Age — The Rise and Dominance of Åšaivism during the Early Medieval Period.” In: Shingo Einoo, ed., Genesis and Development of Tantrism, University of Tokyo.

Siddalingaiah T.B. 2004: Śaiva Siddhānta Siddhanta Ratnam Smt. Usha Ramji Memorial Trust, Chennai.