Who is Rudra (in Vedas and Upanishads)? - Shiva and The Eleven Rudras

who is Rudra, Shiva
Rudra in Vedas:

The earliest mentions of Rudra occur in the Rig Veda, where three entire hymns are devoted to him. Rig Veda mentions a set of thirty-three deities. According to Yaska-Charya, the thirty-three gods are divided equally in three different planes of existence namely the celestial plane (Dyuloka) the intermediate region (Antariksha-loka) and the terrestrial region (Bhur-loka) each plane having eleven gods.

According to the Shatapatha Brahmana, these thirty-three deities include Eight Vasus, Eleven Rudras, Twelve Adityas, Dyaus, And Prithvi.




In Rig Veda, Rudra is one of the intermediate level gods (Antariksha Devata). He is a divinity of the subtle world, the sphere of space, the mid sphere between the spheres of earth and the Sun (rig veda 5.3).

Rudra in the Rig-Veda Samhita is a highly complex divine character with contradictory qualities; and yet harmonizing within himself all contradictions.

The magnificent verses composed by the Rishi Grisamada (rv. 2.33) hails the merciful (Jalasa) Rudra as the ‘best of all the physicians (Bheṣajebhiḥ, Bheshaja Shiromani ) –Vaidyanatha (rv 2.33.4). He is said to possesses healing remedies – jalasa-beshaja (rv 1.43.4); and, thousand medicines and strengthening balms (Jálāṣabheṣajam) – (rv 7.46.3).

Rishi Grisamada adores Rudra as the blissful god of all created beings, the mightiest of the mighty who rests in his own glory. In him, the sovereign (Isana) of this world; the power of divinity (Asurya) is inherent; and, from him that power never departs. The hymns beseech Rudra to ‘transport us over miseries to well-being’. He prays to Rudra: ‘as one who finds shade in blazing sun, may i , unharmed, win the grace of Rudra ‘ (rv.2.33.6)

Rishi Grisamada adores Rudra as the blissful god of all created beings, the mightiest of the mighty who rests in his own glory. In him, the sovereign (Isana) of this world; the power of divinity (Asurya) is inherent; and, from him that power never departs.

Rudra in Upanishads:

Yajnavalkya, in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, queries :

KATAME RUDRA ITI: “who are the Rudras?”;

then goes on to explain “the ten vital energies in the body (DASAME PURUSE PRANA) ;and the atman make eleven (ATMA-EKADASHAH). These are the Rudras.”

”When the energies and the soul leave the body, they make one cry in anguish.” While a person is alive, these eleven: The senses and the mind, subject the individual to their demands, and make him cry in agony if he violates their laws.

rudra by pieter weltevrede
Rudra by Pieter Weltevrede

Chandogya Upanishad also calls Rudra the howler or the red one as prana , the cause of tears, because : ”Verily, the vital breaths are the cause of the tears, for on departing they cause everyone to lament in tears” (Chandogya Upanishad 3.16.9).

Rudra – Shiva:

 In Rig Veda, as it is often said, the term Shiva occurs eighteen times(18). And, each time it is used as an adjective, an epithet standing for “an auspicious one” (Mangalakara) in the sense of being “propitious” Or “kind”

 Shiva, in Rig Veda, is not the name of any god. It is a quality found in many gods.

It is said, that Rudra’s identification with Shiva came much later; and for the first time in Svetasvatara Upanishad and later in Yajur veda (Taittiriya Samhita, 4-5-1 – Satarudriya section).

By the time of the puranas, the aspect of Rudra had merged with Shiva , one of the grand trinity ; and , Rudra represented Shiva’s terrific aspect as the destroyer. Not surprisingly, Rudra came to be closely associated with the god of fire, Agni. At the same time, he was also an aspect of Shiva the lord of the universe, the cosmic dancer, the supreme yogi and master of all yogis.

The Eleven Rudras:

The Rudras are said to be truly infinite (SHATAM ANANTAM BHAVATI, ASANKHYAKAM). They are present everywhere, manifest in millions of forms in as many abodes; and influence every aspect of creation;  and they are there even in the food we eat and drink we consume.

They are immanent within us. They are the protectors of the beings and the created world; the decay and destruction sets in when they refuse to support. Pray therefore to the Rudras for protection and benevolence; and to alleviate our troubles.

Sri Krishna in Bhagavad-Gita declares, among the eleven Rudras, i am lord Shiva. The Rudras are however talked in terms of sets of eleven- Ekadasa Rudra, inasmuch as the term Rudra has virtually come to represent ‘the number eleven’. However, each tradition, each text has its own set of eleven Rudras, according to its priorities. Their names and attributes differ from one text to another.

The following are some instances of the names of the eleven Rudras according to different authorities:

1) Aghora (benevolent);

 2) Kapardi (with matted hair);

 3) Girisha (lord of mountains);

 4) Bhima( terrible) ;

 5) Nilagriva (blue throated);

 6) Trayambaka (three eyed);

 7) Sabhapathi (master of the assembly);

 8) Ganapathi (leader of the hosts);

 9) Senani(commander of forces);

 10) Samkara(doer of good );

 11) Shambhu (appearing for the welfare of all).

Corresponding to eleven Rudras, there are eleven consorts for them. They are said to emanate from the feminine half of the Shiva’s body. For instance, Dhi; Vritti; Usana; Uma; Niyuta; Sarpi; Ila; Ambika; Iravathi; Sudha; and Diksha are the eleven Rudranis mentioned in Vishnu Purana.

The iconographic details of the Rudras as provided in the various texts are not uniform. But, as a rule, all Rudras are said to possess forms similar to Shiva. They weave their matted hair in the form of a crown, to which a crescent moon is stuck. There is no standard set of Rudras. Each school, text or authority identifies its own set of eleven Rudras according to their priorities. The details of iconography of Rudras vary greatly across the texts and traditions. There is a considerable flexibility in the choice of the attributes, the physical forms, the postures and the ornaments/weapons.

Article by: Religious Nomad

  1. Late Mr. K Ranganath Krishnatheeram (Translations of Vedas and Upanishads from Sanskrit to Telugu)
  2. Mr. Sreenivasa Rao

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