रुद्र, rudra

Terrible hypostasis of Shiva. Lord of the natural elements. Ruler of tamoguna (forces of inertia and decay). As a great destroyer, able to annihilate demolition itself. He is turned to in times of disaster, for protection from enemy attacks, illness, and even death.


According to the most common version, "Rudra" comes from the root रुद्, rud – "shout, howl, cry", and can be translated as "howler". Another interpretation of rud is "shine, glisten" or "blush, redden". This etymology reveals the connection of Rudra with winds, storms, thunderclouds, thunder and lightning, the roar of a storm.

Another etymology links "Rudra" to रौद्र, raudra – "wild, fierce, ferocious".

Qualities and Attributes of Rudra

In the "Rigveda" (hereinafter RV), Rudra is presented as a powerful and generous God with a violent temper, with braided hair and decorative vestments. Prayers were offered to him as the greatest healer, the best doctor (RV II, 33.4), the protector of crops and livestock:

"Has a thousand medicines and strengthening balms"

RV VII, 46.3

“Rudra, strong, with a braided scythe, dominating men, so that there is happiness for the two-legged and four-legged, so that everything flourishes in this village without disease”

RV, I, 114:1

“The red boar of the sky, with a braided scythe, a violent appearance, we call with a bow. Holding in his hand the desired healing agents, may he grant us shelter, a shield, a refuge.

RV, I, 114:5

"Rudra knows everything as it really is."

"Yoga Vasistha", chapter 6.8. "Legend of a hundred Rudras"

In "Shiva-sahasranam", Rudra is called the "Archer" (Sanskt. शर्वśarva), the arrow is an essential attribute of Rudra. This epithet comes from the Sanskrit root śarv-, which means "to hurt" or "to kill". 

According to "Rig Veda", Rudra, along with the goddess Prishni, gave birth to the Maruts, thunder deities who accompany Indra. The root “mar”, “mri”, “mrityu” is associated with death, “maru” (मरु) is “desert”, therefore Rudra is defined as the god of killing, destruction, the god of volcanoes, and bad energy.

According to "Rudra Samhita" in "Shiva Purana" (further SHP RS), Mount Kailash is the habitat of Rudra, and his loka is above all other ones – above the Vishnu and Brahma lokas. While "Kurma Purana" identifies Brahmaloka with Vishnuloka, but also has Rudraloka above them.

Rudra the Creator, Rudra Shiva, Rudra the Parabrahman

"Rigveda" calls Rudra the "Father of the Universe" (RV 6.49.10), the "Lord or Master of the Universe" (RV 2.33.9).

In "Atharvaveda", Rudra is given the title of Pashupati – the Lord of all living beings, and He is also called "Ekavrata" – which means both the universal law (dharma) and the universe itself. That is, everything that exists is only Rudra-Shiva, and there is nothing except Him.

“In 'Atharva Veda' they called Shiva Rudra, Ekavrata, this great being, like the whole Universe, which is filled with the great universal law. Individual beings, followers were considered identical to Rudra, and they were called vratya (one who lives in accordance with the Eka-vrata dharma) ... Everything that a person does is directed to the highest, he lives in God and all his deeds are the deeds of God ..."

Guru Yogi Matsyendranath Maharaj, quote from

Vedic hymn (stotra) "Sri Rudram" – one of the most important hymns of Yajurveda, is dedicated to Rudra. In this hymn, Rudra is described as omnipresent, all-pervading, primordial, and always abiding:

“Worship to the Source of all things and the Destroyer of all ailments!”, “Worship to the Destroyer and Protector of all “connected” beings!”, “To that Rudra who is in fire, who is in water, who is in herbs, who is in all worlds of the Universe To him, Rudra, let there be worship!”, “O Rudra! You hold in your hands the knots of breath threads, you are the counteraction to all poisons”.

In "Shri Rudram" panchakshara-mantra "Namah Shivaya", which is considered a form of pranava "OM", is written down for the first time.

In the Upanishads, Rudra is proclaimed identical to Purusha, Brahman, is praised as the source and creator of all beings, He is being assigned such qualities as omnipotence, omniscience, and transcendence:

“Rudra is the embodiment of all gods. All the gods are different manifestations of Shri Rudra Himself <…> the Eternal Parabrahman, inaccessible to the senses, Which is pure Existence, Knowledge and Bliss, and Which cannot be understood either through speech or through the mind. (“Rudra-Hridaya-Upanishad”) “[He] who is the lord and creator of the gods, the universal lord, Rudra, the great sage, who first gave birth to the Golden Embryo, may he endow us with [the ability] of clear comprehension!”

"Svetashvatara Upanishad", III.4

The "Shiva Purana" repeatedly emphasizes that Rudra is not different from Shiva, is his perfect and complete incarnation. (SHP RS 1:16:50). It states that Rudra, unlike Vishnu and Brahma, is not born of Prakriti (ShP RS 1:9:41), but is manifested from the heart of Shiva (ShP RS 1:9:56-57). The "Kurma Purana" (11:37:70-71) gives a slightly different version: Agni (tamas), Brahma (rajas) and Vishnu (sattva) are the three forms of Rudra, while Shiva is a complete and attributeless.

Multitude of Rudras

Rudra is associated with the life principle that is present in all living beings. In this regard, various scriptures speak of the multiplicity of its forms, the multitude of Rudras.

“Divided into an immeasurable number of parts, it [the nature of Rudra] fills these worlds. “For it is said thus: “Indeed, just as sparks [arise] from fire and rays from the sun, so also from it, Verily, breath and the like come out here again [and again] in due order.”

"Maitri Upanishad", 6:26

“When the Life Principle manifested Itself, it had no name and so wept. Prajapati asked about the reason and heard in response the request of this child to receive a name, (then) he (Prajapati) gave Him first the name Rudra (“Howler”), then the names Sarva, Pashupati, Ugra, Ashani, Bhava, Mahadeva and Ishana."

"Shatapta Brahmana", 6.1.3. 1-18

The "Brihadaranyaka Upanishad" (9.4) defines Rudras as follows:

"'What are the Rudras?' – 'These ten organs of vital activity are in Purusha and the eleventh is Atman. When they leave this mortal body, they make [us] cry; because they make cry, [they are called] Rudras.'"

A similar description is given in "Chandogya Upanishad" (3.16.9):

“Verily, the breaths of life are the cause of tears, because when they depart, they make everyone weep.”

"Vishnu Purana" (further VP) tells that Rudra appeared from the forehead of Brahma in his androgynous form Ardhanarishvara, then split into two – into male and female forms, and the male half was divided into 11 more forms. Then these 12 forms formed a multitude:

"From the concentrated (Brahma) descendants endowed with intelligence were born <…> But they were all indifferent to worldly (affairs), indifferent to procreation, endowed with Knowledge, devoid of passions and free from envy. (Realizing) that they are indifferent to the creation in the worlds, Brahma, endowed with the great Atman, became furious, he was able to burn the three worlds. From Brahma's wrath, a garland of fire flared up, and all three worlds sparkled, O hermit. From his wrathful forehead, (scarred) with wrinkles (from) furrowed brows, Rudra arose, shining like the noonday sun, huge and ferocious, with a half-woman-half-man body. 'Split,' – Brahma told him and disappeared again. (Hearing his words), (Rudra) split in two, separating his feminine from the masculine, and then he divided the masculine into eleven parts – gentle and rough, peaceful and restless; and the divine lord divided the female nature into many parts – dark and light, with his original appearance".

VP 1:7:1-13

"(Eleven deities): Aja-ekapad, Ahirbudhnya and the valiant Rudra Tvashtri, – the native son of Tvashtri was Vishvarupa, who performed great austerity, – Hara, Bahurupa, Tryambaka, Aparajita, as well as Vrishakapi, Shambhu, Kapardin and Raivata, are called eleven rudras, the rulers of three worlds. But (in total) there are one hundred immeasurably brilliant Rudras."

VP 1:15:122-124

Another story from "Vishnu Purana" tells about the Ashtamurti (eight forms) of Rudra-Shiva, which symbolize (personify) in succession five gross material elements (ether, air, fire, water, and earth), two opposite principles – prana and apana (heat and cold, represented respectively by the Sun and Moon) and finally the principle of mind (manas):

“I have told you, O great hermit, about the creation of Brahma, in which Passion (predominates). Now I will tell you about the creation of Rudra. Listen to my words. At the beginning of the kalpa, the Lord (Brahma) set out to (create) a son similar to himself, and from him a black-red youth arose. He, O best of the twice-born, ran and roared. "What are you roaring about?" Brahma addressed the screamer. "Give (me) a name!" he replied to Prajapati. "You are called by the divine name Rudra! Do not cry, be firm!" But, having heard this, (Rudra) uttered seven more cries, and therefore the Lord gave him (another) seven other names. To these seven (rudras) – they belong, O twice-born, kingdoms, wives and offspring — the Lord gave the names: Bhava, Sharva, Ishana, Pashupati, Bhima, Ugra, Mahadeva; and he, the great father, appointed kingdoms for them. The sun, water, earth, air, fire, space, the acting Brahmin and the Moon are (here), respectively, the bodies (of the eight Rudras)."

VP 1:8:1-8

Rudra in yoga practice

Usually Rudra is associated with tamoguna because Rudra is responsible for all kinds of destruction and ultimately pralaya, but such a comparison is true only from the point of view of manifested being:

"Verily, in the beginning this [world] was one tamas. It [dwelt] in the highest [beginning]; moved by the supreme, it has reached distinction. Verily, this image is rajas. This rajas, driven by the [supreme], has attained distinction. Verily, this image is sattva. This sattva, driven by the [higher], exudes the essence – this is the part that [is] a part of thinking, conscious of the beginning in each person, distinguished by representation, decision, self-conceit. [This] is Prajapati, Vishva <…> verily, that part of him which is from tamas is Rudra.  Further, O disciples, verily that part of him which is from rajas is Brahman.  Further, O disciples, verily that part of him which is from sattva is Vishnu. Indeed, he, this one, becomes triple, becomes eight, eleven, twelve, [and so] to infinity. Becoming [such, this] being wanders, penetrating into [all] beings. He became the lord of beings. It is the Atman inside and outside [everything], inside and outside [everything]."

"Maitri Upanishad", 5:2

From a yogic point of view, the opposite is true, Rudra is the god of nectar. He breaks all restrictions. He is the destroyer of demolition, like Kali is destruction (or death), counting the rest of the life of a living being, but also energy, i.e. what is changing. Kali is both death and life. It transcends time. Kali is the shakti of Rudra Mahakala, therefore Mahakala is associated with nectar. Rudra supports, guards, protects from destructive energies. Shiva Purana says that Rudra has the nature of tamas only externally, outside, and his internal nature is sattvic (SR RS 1:16:37-39).

Thus, Rudra is the one who destroys the external barriers that limit vasanas, obscurations of the mind to gain inner purity, awareness of the true self – Rudra-Shiva, granting liberation. In yogic practice, Rudra is associated with shunya, emptiness. Rudra is called "Ghora-Aghora" – one who is peaceful and terrible at the same time. “Ghora” is terrible, in fact it is the whole manifested world, samsara. "Aghora" is peace, complete peace, nirvana. Rudra is the one who liberates from rebirth, the one who gives true birth in Brahman.

In "Shiva-sahasranam" (shloka 169) Rudra is called "the most powerful of the powerful, there is no other savior for a person from rebirth – other gods cannot bestow immortality." In "Rudra-suktam", the Mrityunjaya-mantra is addressed to Rudra – a mantra that conquers death ("Namakam", 12.1).

Ekamukha Rudra is Mrityunjaya, one of the forms of Rudra

In the energy structure of the human body, the Upanishads (“Brahmavidya Upanishad”, “Yogashikha Upanishad”) place Rudra in the ajna-chakra (rudragranthi), although there are other versions of the localization of granthis. Rudra-granthi is associated with ahamkara, or a person's awareness of himself, identifying himself with something. If a person overcomes his vices, such as narcissism, greed, anger, then a person reaches the state of ananda, or bliss.

Having overcome all three granthis successively (brahma-, vishnu- and rudra-granthis), a person realizes himself as Shiva, because Rudra and Shiva are not different. The passage of energy through the sushumna channel through the rudra-granthi implies the following;

"The destruction of the concepts of 'I' and 'Mine', which lie at the root of lobha (greed) and matsarya (malice). Through this action, ananda (bliss) is realized, this is what characterizes the overcoming of Rudra-grantha. At the moment of its overcoming, Shakti expresses herself as Maha Saraswati, in which sattva-guna and chit (consciousness) predominate."

"Reflections on Tantra and Vaishnavism", chapter "Three Shaktis and Three Granthis", by K.P. Sinh, translated from English by Lalitanath

About Rudra in "Yoga Vasistha"

"Thus, they say of Rudra that he is pure, spontaneous self-perception, a single consciousness that dwells in all substances. He is the source of all origins, the essence of this apparent world, the greatest of actions. It is the cause of all causes and the essence of all beings, although it is not the cause of anything and is not a concept of existence, and therefore cannot be an object of thought. It is consciousness in all consciousness, it knows itself as its own object, it is its own highest object, and is conscious of the infinite variety within itself.

It is consciousness in all sensations, but it is pure and unlimited. It is absolute truth and therefore is not truth as a concept. It is not limited by the limitations of the concepts of truth and falsehood. This is truly the very end of the ultimate truth or primordial reality. It is pure consciousness and nothing else.

It is itself colored by desires or aspirations for pleasure. It itself becomes that which feels pleasure, the sensation of pleasure and the impurity that pollutes that pleasure. Like the sky, unlimited and indivisible, it soon becomes limited and conditioned. In this infinite consciousness there were millions of mirages called worlds, and there will be millions more of such mirages. But in reality, nothing came into being independent of the infinite consciousness – light and heat seem to come from the flame, but they are not independent of it. The infinite consciousness can be compared to the smallest particle, which nevertheless hides in its heart the greatest of mountains. It transcends the duration of endless epochs, but it does not miss even a moment. It is thinner than the tip of a hair, but it fills the entire universe. No one saw its boundaries and limits.

It does nothing, and yet it "creates" the universe. While maintaining the existence of the entire universe, it does nothing. All substances are not different from it, but it itself is not a substance, it is non-material, it fills all matter. The cosmos is his body, and yet he has no body. It is the eternal now, but it is also tomorrow. Often, seemingly meaningless sounds fill with meaning and are considered meaningful when talking – in the same way, infinite consciousness exists and it does not exist. It is even that which is not. All these statements about what is and what is not based on logic, and the infinite consciousness goes beyond truth and logic."

"Deva Puja", chapter 6.4