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Plaster replica of "Ashtmurti". 6th century CE. On display in the Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai.
Concept of Astamurti
In the Vedas Lord Rudra, who subsequently transformed into the benevolent Lord Shiva, has multiple attributes and numerous titles, among which eight are significant to the conceptualization in the Shaivites tradition. Rudra's identification with Shiva was put in writing for the first time in Shvetashvatara Upanishad and later in Yajurveda linked Taittiriya Samhita, S.4.5.1, in the Shata Rudriya Section). The Vajasneya samhita (S. 3.63) also co-equals Shiva with Rudra by citing tam Shiva namasi, meaning I bow to you, Shiva. The Shathapatha Brahmana notes that Shiva is also called referred to as Bhava, Mahadeva, Sarva, Pashupati, Ugra and Ishana. These are typically the forms of water, fire, sacrifice, sun, moon, ether, earth and air. Ancient Sanskrit linguist and grammarian Pāṇini in his Astadhyayi (S.1.49, S.3.53, S.4.100, S.5.3.99) also notes that Rudra is called variously as Mrida, Bhava, Sarva, Grisha, Mahadeva and Tryambaka. Rishi Patanjali, propounder of Yoga system, in Mahabashya also provides for various icons of Shiva. In the Puranic era, Rudra completely merged with Shiva and joined the Trimurti and represented the destroyer of evil.
Individual Vedas refer to Rudra, alternatively Shiva with eight different names having different qualities. Such eight attributes create the Shiva aspect of Ashtamurti [Ashta (अस्ट) - Eight, Murti (मूर्ति) - Manifestation] meaning Eightfold attributes in the manifestation of Lord Shiva.
Origin of concept
The later Shaiva philosophies, namely, the Shaiva Siddhanta (Shaiva Doctrine) Pashupati Mata (Pashupati Doctrine), stream recognize the Ashtamurti iconography in the Agamas. However, these texts put greater emphasis on the Panchabrahman attribute in comparison to the Vedic Ashtamurti ascription.
The Eight Manifestations
The Puranic shiva mahimna stotram composed in glory of Lord Shiva by Gandharva Pushpadanta invokes the Astamurti form and distinctly enumerates the eight names of Lord Shiva on the stanza 28 as under:
भवः शर्वो रुद्रः पशुपतिरथोग्रः सहमहांस्तथा भीमेशानाविति यदभिधानाष्टकमिदम्।
अमुष्मिन्प्रत्येकं प्रविचरति देव श्रुतिरपि प्रियायास्मै धाम्ने प्रविहितनमस्योऽस्मि भवते॥२८॥
"Bhavah sharvo rudrah pashupatih atha ugrah saha mahan,
Tatha bhima ishanav iti yadabhidhanashtakam idam |
Amushmin pratyekam pravicharati deva shrutir api,
Priyayasmai dhamne pranihita-namasyo asmi bhavate ||"
"Bhavá (Bhaváh), Śarvá (śarváh), Rudrá (rudráh), Paśupati (paśupatih); and likewise (átho) Úgra (úgrah) along with (sahá) Mahādeva (mahān); as well as (táthā) Bhīmá (bhīmá) and Īśāná (īśānau)", "iti" denotes inverted commas. This (idám) (is) the group consisting of eight (ástakam) names (abhidhāna) of that (Śivá) (yád). Oh Lord(devá)!, even though (ápi) the Śrúti, the Vedas (śrúti) examines accurately (pravicarati) each of them (pratyekam), I pay homage (pravihita-namasya ásmi) to this (asmai) dear (priyāya) (Transcendental) Abode or (Supreme) State, dhāma (dhāmne), (which is) You, bhavān (bhavate) (essentially)//28//
"Bhava, Sarva, Rudra, Pashupati, also Ugra with Mahan, furthermore Bhima and Ishana, these are eight appellations of the Lord, each of them the srutis individually expound. My salutations are to the dear abode in which these names are laid i.e. to one who bears these names."
The essential qualities associated with these names are:,
Bhava - Existence, Creation,
Sarva - All prevading one,
Rudra - Dispeller of Sorrows,
Pasupati - Lord of all beings
Ugra - The Fearsome,
Mahan or Mahat i.e. Mahadeva – The Supreme,
Bhima - The Tremendous,
Isana - The Directional ruler
Linga Purana Descriptions
Lord Nandikeshvara in the Linga Purana elaborates the nature of the Astamurti to Sanatkumara and expounds a typical shaiva tradition. The nature and details of the eightfold manifestations are as under:
Characharanam bhutanam dhata vishvambharatmakah,
Sharva ityuchyate devah sarva-shastrartha-paragaih 2.13.3 ||
Vishvambharatmanas-tasya sarvasya parameshthinah,
Vikeshi kathyate patni tanayo .angarakah smritah 2.13.4 ||
Wife=Vikeshi; Son=Angaraka, i.e. planet Mars; The lord of all and the entity pervading the universe.
Bhava ityuchyate devo bhagavan veda-vadibhih
Samjivanasya lokanam bhavasya paramatmanah 2.13.5 ||
Uma samkirtita devi sutah shukrashcha suribhih
Sapta-lokandaka-vyapi sarva-lokaika-rakshita 2.13.6 ||
wife=Uma; son=Shukra, i.e. planet Venus; envelops the 7 world-spheres; protects the universe, infuses life in the universe.
Vahnyatma bhagavan devah smritah pashupatir budhaih
Svaha patnyatmanas-tasya prokta pashupateh priya 2.13.7 ||
Shanmukho bhagavan devo budhaih putra udahritah
Samasta-bhuvana-vyapi bharta sarva-sharirinam 2.13.8 ||
Wife= Svaha; son= Shanmukha; envelops the universe; protects all life-forms, is manifest as fire.
Pavanatma budhair deva ishana iti kirtyate
Ishanasya jagat-kartur-devasya pavanatmanah 2.13.9
Shiva devi budair-ukta putrashchasya manojavah
Characharanam bhutanam sarvesham sarvakamadah 2.13.10
Wife= Shiva; son= Manojava; the substance of living and non-living forms; confers all wishes, is manifest as air.
Vyomatma bhagavan devo bhima ityuchyate budhaih
Mahamahimno devasya bhimasya gaganatmanah 2.13.11
Disho dasha smrita devyah sutah sargash-cha suribhih
Suryatma bhagavan devah sarvesham cha vibhutidah 2.13.12
Wives= 10 directions; Son= Sarga; envelops the universe; basis of all manifestations in the universe, is manifest as space and as the sun.
Rudra ityuchyate devair bhagavan bhukti-muktidah
Suryatma kasya rudrasya bhaktanam bhakti-dayinah 2.13.13
Suvarchala smrita devi sutashchasya shanaishcharah
Samasta saumya vastunam prakrititvena vishrutah 2.13.14
Wife= Suvarchala; Son= Shanishchara, i.e. Saturn; gives liberation and pleasures; cause of devotion in devotees, present as the nature of all pleasant things, is manifest as the sun.
Somatmako budhair devo mahadeva iti smritah
Somatmakasya devasya mahadevasya suribhih 2.13.15
Dayita rohini prokta budhash-chaiva sharirajah
Havya-kavyasthitim kurvan havya-kavyashinam tada 2.13.16
Wife= Rohini; Son= Budha, i.e. Mercury; bearer of offerings to gods and ancestors, is manifest as the moon;
Rudra is first labeled as Mahadeva in the White Yajurveda.
Yajamanatmako devo mahadevo budhaih prabhuh
Ugra ityuchyate sadbhir ishanashcheti chaparaih 2.13.17
Ugrahvayasya devasya yajamanatmanah prabhoh
Diksha patni budhair ukta samtanakhyah sutas-tatha 2.13.18
Wife= Diksha; Son= Samtana; manifests as the ritualist.
The Bhagavata Purana, S. 3.12.12 mentions the following names of Shiva:
Manyur manur mahinaso,
Mahāñ chiva rtadhvajah,
Ugra-retā bhavah kālo,
As per Bhagavata Purana, Lord Brahma gave Rudra eleven other names, Manyu, Manu, Mahinasa, Mahān, Śiva, Rtadhvaja, Ugraretā, Bhava, Kāla, Vāmadeva and Dhrtavrata. Many names from the Bhagavata Purana appear in the Astamurti ascription.
- Gopal, Madan (1990). K.S. Gautam, ed. India through the ages. Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. p. 70.
- The Myths and Gods of India: Alain Daniélou: https://books.google.com/books?id=1HMXN9h6WX0C&pg=RA1-PA204&lpg=RA1-PA204&dq=bhava+sarva+rudra+pashupati&source=bl&ots=XtvxaQIL6b&sig=mhoQfkMyfQnEwJiBWdpf24noXdk&hl=en&ei=bC3gSbyvN9KUkAX2o9HVCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1
- The presence of Śiva: Stella Kramrisch: https://books.google.com/books?id=O5BanndcIgUC&pg=PA107&lpg=PA107&dq=bhava+sarva+rudra+pashupati&source=bl&ots=x9t3DlQnma&sig=TP2GAPyzbrDfLmYL-T0-_FZbr_s&hl=en&ei=bC3gSbyvN9KUkAX2o9HVCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4
- The Concept of Rudra-Shiva Through the Ages: Mahadev Chakravarti, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1986. ISBN 81-208-0053-2
- Vedic Mythology: Arthur Anthony Macdonell
- A classical dictionary of Hindu mythology and religion, geography, history, and literature: Dowson, John (1820–1881), London: Trübner, 1879 [Reprint, London: Routledge, 1979]
- Encyclopedia of Hinduism - Volumes on Shiva: Ed. by Dr. Nagendra Kr. Singh