Shvetashvatara Upanishad

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The Shvetashvatara Upanishad (Sanskrit in Devanagari: श्वेताश्वतरोपनिषद्; IAST: Śvetāśvataropaniṣad) figures as number 14 in the Muktika canon of 108 Upanishads. It is associated with the Krishna Yajurveda. This Upanishad contains 113 mantras or verses in six chapters. It was presumably composed in the Maurya period (4th or 3rd century BCE) [1]

The Shvetashvatara Upanishad is the earliest textual exposition of a systematic philosophy of Shaivism, for the first time elevating Rudra to the status of Īśa ("Lord"), a god with cosmological functions such as those later attributed to Shiva.[2]

The text concludes with a colophon attributing the text to "Sage Shvetashvatara" directly.[3] The name "Shvetashvatara" is a bahuvrihi compound (Śveta-aśvatara) translating to "owner of a white mule".[4]

There is one commentary available on this Upanishad that is attributed to Adi Shankara, but on comparison with his other commentaries, there is some doubt[by whom?] that is indeed composed by him. There are three other commentators, namely Vijnanatma, Shankarananda and Narayana Tirtha.

Poetic style[edit]

Normally, Upanishads are sources of serious philosophical thought, but this, the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, differs from other Upanishads by explaining the same principles in a simple, easy-going and poetic way. Wherever the sage Shvetashvatara has his independent hymns, he sees them in a beautiful, heart-catching, poetic way. He is not only a seer of Mantras, but also a poet from his heart. Here are few examples.

While trying to describe the omnipresence of Brahman, hymn 4.2 says,

You are woman; you are man; you are boy and you are girl; you are the shivering old man helped by a stick; you are born in the form of this world.[5]

Hymn 4.4 says

You are the blue butterfly, the green-eyed parrot and the lightning cloud. You are the seasons and the seas. You are the one without any beginning; you are omnipresent; all the worlds are born out of you.[6]


  1. ^ Flood (1996), p. 86 places it in the 4th or 3rd century BCE; E. F. Gorski, Theology of Religions (2008), p. 97 places it "probably in the late 4th century BCE".
  2. ^ For Śvetāśvatara Upanishad as a systematic philosophy of Shaivism see: Chakravarti, p. 9. "... a theology which elevates Rudra to the status of supreme being, the Lord (Sanskrit: Īśa) who is transcendent yet also has cosmological functions, as does Śiva in later traditions." Flood (1996), p. 153.
  3. ^ "The Sage Shvetashvatara got this knowledge of Brahman, which is very sacred and revered by many great sages, through his penance and through God's grace, and he taught it very well to his disciples."[unreliable source?]
  4. ^ c.f. "Shvetashva" "owner of a white horse", one of Arjuna's names in the Mahabharata; c.f. also the name Zarathustra "owner of a yellow/fawn-coloured [or 'old'] camel").
  5. ^ "Shvetashvatara Upanishad". Retrieved 2013-10-14. 
  6. ^ "Shvetashvatara Upanishad". Retrieved 2013-10-14. 


  • Chakravati, Mahadev (1994). The Concept of Rudra-Śiva Through The Ages. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 81-208-0053-2.  (Second Revised Edition; Reprint, Delhi, 2002).
  • Flood, Gavin (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43878-0. 
  • Kannada Translation of Shvetashvatara Upanishad by Swami Adidevananda – Ramakrishna Mission Publishers.

External links[edit]