Rudra-Shiva concept (Study)

by Maumita Bhattacharjee | 2018 | 54,352 words

This page relates ‘Rudra in the Rigveda-samhita (Introduction)’ of the study on the Rudra-Shiva concept in the Vedic and Puranic literature, starting with the concept of God as contemplated by the Rishis (Vedic sages). These pages further deal with the aspects, legends, iconography and eulology of Rudra-Shiva as found in the Samhitas, Brahamanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads Sutras and Puranas. The final chapters deal with descriptions of his greatness, various incarnations and epithets.

1. Rudra in the Ṛgveda-saṃhitā (Introduction)

In the Introductory chapter, it is already discussed that Rudra is a supreme deity in the Yajurvedic period and occupies a higher platform in later literature. In order to draw the eminence in other literature, it is important to study the materials which are related to god Rudra in the Vedic Saṃhitās.

In the entire Vedic literature, a large number of gods and goddesses are eulogised. Amongst them, god Rudra occupies an important position. In the Ṛgveda, Rudra is one of the minor atmospheric gods[1] and a subordinate deity[2]; but in later period he occupies a prominent position and he is identified with the popular god Śiva. Mahadev Chakravarti in his book entitled The Concept of Rudra-Śiva Through the Ages opines that “In course of ages this minor deity has developed, as a result of fusion with a number of non-Aryan divinities, into the great and popular god Rudra-Śiva, the third deity of the Hindu triad.”[3]

According to Yāska, Rudra is the deity of the middle region.[4] There has been difference of opinion among the Vedic scholars, in respect of the exact interpretation of the meaning of the term rudra.

Yāska in his Nirukta, has given the etymological meaning of the term rudra as—

rudra rautīti sataḥ, rorūyamāṇo dravatīti vā rodayatervā | yadarudattadrudrasya rudratvaṃ iti kāthakaṃ | yadarodittadrudrasya rudrattvaṃ iti hāridravikaṃ.

Rudra is called so because he cries again and again and sheds tears or he who makes weep.[5]

Sāyaṇācārya in his commentary on Ṛgveda 1.114.1, derives the word rudra in as many as six different ways—

(i) rodayati sarvamantakāle iti rudraḥ.

It means Rudra is one who makes all cry at the time of end or death.

(ii) yadvā | rut saṃsārākhyaṃ duḥkhaṃ tad drāvayati apagamayati vināśayatīti rudraḥ.

Rut signifies the worldly pain and who takes away or destroys this pain is called Rudra.

(iii) yadvā | rutaḥ śabdarūpāḥ upaniṣadaḥ | tābhirdrūyate gamyate pratipādyate iti rudraḥ.

It means rut denotes Upaniṣad. One who is known by the knowledge of Upaniṣad is known as Rudra.

(iv) rut śabdātmikā vāṇī, tatpratipādyā ātmavidyā | tāmupāsaakebhyo rāti dadātīti rudraḥ.

It means that rut denotes the divine speech and spiritual knowledge. The one who bestows this knowledge to the worshippers is known as Rudra.

(v) yadvā | ruṇaddhi āvṛṇoti iti rut andhakārādi | tat dṛṇāti vidāsyatīti rudraḥ. Rut means obstruct darkness etc.

He who removes this darkness is known as Rudra.

(vi) yadvā | kadācid devāsurasaṅgrāme agnayātmako rudro devair nikṣiptaṃ dhanamapahṛtya niragāt | asurān jitvā devā enamanviṣya dṛṣṭvā dhanamapāharan | tadānīmarudat | tasmāt rudra ityākhyāyate.

There is an account as how Agni came to be known as Rudra. Once upon a time, the gods engaged in a fierce battle with Asuras. For safeguarding their (gods) wealth, they kept it near Agni. But Agni stole their wealth and escaped from there. After defeating the Asuras, the gods sought their treasure. They found Agni and took back their wealth from him. Then Agni wept and from that day he came to be called Rudra.

In another mantra of the Ṛgveda, Sāyaṇācārya states that:

rudduḥkhaṃ duḥkhaheturvā pāpādiḥ | tasya drāvayitā etannāmako devo’si.[6]

This statement can be defined as rud means pain or the reason of pain, sins etc. One who dispels this pain is called Rudra.

He again says that:

rudraṃ rorūyamāṇaṃ dravantaṃ śatrūn rodayantaṃ vā

“He who cries again and again and compels tears or who makes his enemies to cry is called Rudra.”[7]

Western scholars like, Grassmann derives the word rudra from rud to shine. Pichel says that from rud to be ruddy. He means it ‘to bright’ or ‘the red one.’ Weber remarks that Rudra to be the howling of storm. The term rudra is derived from the root rud to cry.[8]

Footnotes and references:


cf., Chakravarti, Mahadev, The Concept of Rudra-Śiva Through the Ages, p.1


Vide, Macdonell, A.A., Vedic Mythology, p.74


Vide, Chakravarti, Mahadev, The Concept of Rudra-Śiva Through the Ages, p.1


athāto madhyasthānā devatāḥ | tāsāṃ vāyuḥ prathamagāmī bhavati | vāyurvātervetervā…rudro rautīti sataḥ…| Nirukta, Dvaivatakāṇḍa 10.1-5


Ibid., 10.5


Sāyaṇa on Ṛgveda, 2.1.6


Sāyaṇa, Ibid., 4.3.1


cf., Macdonell, A.A., Vedic Mythology, p.77

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