Plant Wealth Revealed in the Śrī Rudram

Dr. Raghava S. Boddupalli

Formation of Śrī Rudram

Lord Rudra is the deity mentioned in all four Vēdic texts at multiple places and in multiple forms. Also, Rudra is highly admired in Vēdas and Purāṇas. The name ‘Rudra’ occurs 98 times in the RV, 113 times in the Kṛṣṇa Yajurvēda (KYV), 22 times in the Śukla Yajurvēda (SYV), 4 times in the SV and 45 times in the AV. The Yajurvēda hymns that have gained particular importance are the ‘Rudra Namakaṁ’ (TS 4-5-1 to 4-5-11) and the ‘Rudra Camakaṁ’ (TS 4-7-1 to 4-7-11), which constitute the ‘Śatarudrīyam’ or the ‘Śrī Rudram’ or ‘Rudrapraśna’. Traditionally, along with Namakaṁ and Camakaṁ, Puruṣa sūktaṃ is also chanted.

Namakaṁ Camakaṁ caiva puruṣa sūktam ca nityaśaḥ |

Mahādēvēna tattulyam tanmē manaḥ śivasaṃkalpamastu ||

‘Rudram’ occurs in all the original 108 (92 KYV and 16 SYV) branches (Śākhas) of the Yajurvēda (YV), thus giving rise to the name ‘Śatarudrīyam’. Rudram is found in the six recensions of the YV (4 of KYV and 2 of SYV) surviving today. In the Śrī Rudram alone, the name ‘Rudra’ occurs 18 times and the name ‘Śiva’ occurs 14 times in the Namaka Praśna. The popular name ‘Namaka Praśna’ is due to the repeated utterance, 187 times, of the word “Namah or Namo” (salutation). Following this, the ‘Camaka Praśna’ is chanted wherein the words “Ca me” (meaning ‘and me’), repeated 338 times, hence popularly named ‘Camakam’. While chanting the Śrī Rudram, it is customary after reciting the 11th Anuvāka of the Namaka Praśna, the additional eight Mantras that are chanted which contain the famous Mahā Mr̥tyuṃjaya Mantra, and the other Mantras are revealed in the TS, but elsewhere. Among these eight Mantras, three Mantras are revealed in the RV, four Mantras in the Taittirīya Āraṇyakam (TA) and one Mantra in the TS.  These Mantras are brought together and merged after the 11th Anuvāka of the Namaka Praśna and together are described as ‘Rudra Namaka’. By chanting these Mantras, we are praying Lord Rudra to protect us from untimely death. Similarly, after the 11th Anuvāka of the Camaka Praśna, a Śānti Mantra that is routinely recited is obtained from the 3rd Kāṇḍa of the TS [3-3-2(4)].  With this, the chanting of the ‘Śrī Rudram’ is completed. The three Mantras that are adopted from the RV into the Śrī Rudram are provided with the YV swara. The additional Mantras might have been appended by our R̥ṣis.

Botanical Facets of Śrī Rudram

The Mantras/liturgies in the Śrī Rudram describe agriculture crops, plants, trees and botanical and agriculture terminology. The term Ōṣadhi appears in mantras of Śrī Rudram. Ōṣadhi means an annual plant or herb with medicinal properties. It also means a plant that dies immediately after it produces seeds or a herb that lasts for one year or season [TS 4-5-2(11)]. Śrī Rudram explains that plants and trees containing trichomes (kēśa or hair-like structures) on both sides of the leaves, i.e. dorsal and ventral surface of the leaf [TS 4-5-2(2)].  Both the leaves and the trichomes (hair-like structures) are containing the chlorophyll (hari or harita) and hence they are green in colour. Just as hair are innumerable in number and that protect the skin and the head of the human beings, leaves are also numerous and protect plants and trees. The term Śaṣpa is mentioned in the YV Saṃhitās [TS 4-5-8(16) and VS 21-29] and in RV Brāhmaṇa (AB 8-5-3 and AB 8-8-4), YV Brāhmaṇa[SB 12-7-2(8) and SB 12-9-1(2)]. Sāyaṇāchārya in his commentary on Taittirīya Saṃhita mentioned that Śaṣpa means a just born Darbha grass (Desmostachya bipinnata) grows on the banks of the Ganga River. It also denotes ‘young’ or a ‘sprouting grass’.

tryaṃbakaṃ yajāmahē sugandhiṃ puṣṭivardhanaṃ |

               urvārukamiva bandhanānmṛtyōrmukṣīya māmṛtāt || – TS 1-8-6(11)

My Salutations to Lord Rudra, as the scent, colour etc. are all superior as mentioned by Upanishad in ‘Divyagandha:, the Sri Gandha tree (Santalum album)’, ‘Divyarasa:’ etc., has been used here. Also, in this Mantra it is an invocation made with a request to release the clutch of ‘Mṛtyu’ (death). The essence of this Mantra signifies the fact that just as the ripened Urvāruka (see Figure 01) (cucumber fruit = Cucumis sativus) separates on its own from the stem, in the same way I would like to liberate myself from the cycle of life and death.

Figure 02 – Urvāru (Cucumis sativus) – (a) Cucumber field, (b) Flowering stage, (c) Cucumber fruit intact with the plant, (d) Cucumber fruits and (e) Seeds

Lord Rudra’s weapons such as Triśūla, Bow (Pinakam), Arrows and others are made out of an important and highest quality wood comparable to that of a Nyagrōdha (Ficus benghalensis) tree [TS 4-5-10(10)]. It is described that Lord is seated in a banyan tree in Kailasa, which is 100 Yōjanas tall and 175 Yōjanas wide (Yōjana is a Vedic measure of distance that was used in ancient India. One Yōjana is about 12-15 kilometers in length) and that banyan tree is the refuge of those anxious to obtain Mokṣa.

The 4th Anuvāka of the Camaka Praśna starts with ‘energy’ so much needed for day to day living. It then lists various sources of energy and the means to procure them (agriculture, conquest, etc.).  It asks for the abundance of those sources. It indicates the requirements for the success of Agriculture, growth of the plants and creepers. For the reputed food, the Annam, revealed the major, minor food grains, legumes and an oil seed crop that would give relief from hunger. Here, seven cereal crops, four legume crops and one oil seed crop are revealed (TS 4-7-4, see Figure 02).

……व्री॒हय॑श्च मे॒ यवा”श्चम मे॒ माषा”श्च मे॒ तिला”श्च मे मु॒द्गाश्च॑ मे ख॒ल्वा”श्च मे गो॒धूमा”श्च मे म॒सुरा”श्च मे

प्रि॒यङ्ग॑वश्च॒ मेण॑वश्च मे श्या॒माका”श्च मे नी॒वारा”श्च मे || – TS 4-7-4.

Figure 02 – Cereal, Legume and Oil Seed Crops Revealed
in the Śrī Rudram

The different qualities of cereal grains and their progressive increase in growth of food grains are detailed in this Anuvāka (TS 4-7-4). It prays for the condition in which one never has to go hungry (akṣut) and the condition in which one never runs out (akṣitiḥ) of any item required in a given day. One also gets the message that having food and drink with many more people is more elevating for the nourishment of the body and mind. All these actions are energy-imbibing (eating, drinking etc.) are to be done with a sweet and pleasant manner of speaking, which will definitely reflect in the subtle portion of the food which goes to the mind.

The plants/trees and their derivatives are the key for the ritualistic activities and their significance is described in the Yajurveda. Yajña is the subject matter of entire Vēda. The general requirements to perform Yajñas and are detailed in the Śrī Rudram. The general requirements of Yajñaand Yāgas, in the form of preparation of Yajña Vēdi, Samidhas (kindling wood), Yajña implements (manufactured from different wood of trees), plant-derived oblations, and others are clearly indicated in the Camaka Praśna of Śrī Rudram (TS 4-7-8).

This brief article explains some significant botanical aspects of the Śrī Rudram. An exhaustive explanation of all botanical and agricultural facets is available in the article titled, ‘Agriculture Crops, Plants and Trees Revealed in the Śrī Rudram (Raghava S. Boddupalli (2019) Asian Agri-History, 23(4): 261-281). In summary, the flora of Śrī Rudram contains, one (01) wild grass, seven (07) cereal crops, four (04) legume crops, one (01) oil seed crop, two (02) creepers, five (05) shrubs and fifteen (15) trees. The plants and trees mentioned in the Camaka Praśna are more in number when compared with the Namaka Praśna. The reason for this is that in the Camaka Praśna we pray to the Lord Rudra to provide various crops, plants and trees required for our living and also to perform Yajñas and Yāgās. The crops mentioned in the Śrī Rudram are being cultivated even today for food and fodder.

Dr. Raghava S. Boddupalli, Institute of Sanskrit and Vedic Studies (ISVS)

Editor's note: The above mentioned author's article titled, ‘Agriculture Crops, Plants and Trees Revealed in the Śrī Rudram’ published in Asian Agri-History journal has received 'Dr. KL Mehra Memorial Award'.