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Maha Rudram: Maha Shivaratri At The Hindu Temple Of New Hampshire

K. Arvind

The Hindu Temple of New Hampshire will celebrate Maha Shivaratri on Thursday, February 27, 2014 this year. We invite you to visit the Temple of this auspicious day, and participate in the celebration and in the listening or chanting of the revered Sri Rudram. This article provides an overview of Shivaratri and the Sri Rudram.



Maha Shivaratri

Maha Shivaratri (a night of devotion dedicated to Lord Shiva) is a sacred vigil observed in the Hindu tradition on the new moon day in the Phalguna month (February/March) of the Hindu lunar calendar. The celebration commemorates the legend of Shiva (Neelakanta), as narrated in the Puranas, where he protected the world from the kalakuta poison generated in the course of the churning of the ocean of milk by the gods and demons, by holding the poison in his own throat. The night is typically spent by devotees observing spiritual practices such as Vedic chanting, singing Bhajans, and performing Poojas.



Sri Rudram

The Hindu Temple of New Hampshire has observed Maha Shivaratri in a grand manner each year since its inception 6 years ago. As in the past years, the Temple is celebrating Shivaratri by organizing a Maharudram, in which the powerful Vedic mantras from “Sri Rudram” are chanted by Ritwiks more than a thousand times (11x11x11=1331 times, to be exact), over a period of several days culminating in the finale on Shivaratri night.



Choice of the Enlightened

According to a legend in the Puranas, the Sri Rudram was chanted by the gods to pacify Lord Shiva after he destroyed the demon known as Tripurasura by assuming a ferocious or raudra form. The word Rudra is also translated as the one who removes distress (rum draavayathi iti rudrah), and the regular chanting of Sri Rudram is considered as a prescription for attaining happiness in life. In fact, a popular saying lists the Sri Rudram as one of the five compositions that enlightened souls choose to recite daily:


स्वशाखोपनिषद गीता विष्णोर्नामसहस्त्रकं |  The wise chant daily the Upanishad from their lineage, the Gita,

रुद्रंच पौरुषं सूक्तम् नित्यमावर्त्तयेत् बुधः ||   the Vishnu Sahasranamam, Rudram and Purusha Suktham.



Divine Poetry
The Sri Rudram occurs in the 5th chapter (Prashna)  of the 4th of the seven cantos (Khandaa) of the Taitriya Samhita in the Krishna Yajur Veda, and thus occurs right in the center of the Krishna Yajur Veda. It is a collection of sacred verses (in Sanskrit) that is considered to be the best part of the Yajur Veda, and is enthralling to hear when chanted in the Vedic musical scale.   It starts with salutations to Lord Rudra (Om Namo Bhagavate Rudraya - नमो भगवते रुद्राय), concludes with a peace invocation (Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi - शान्ति शान्ति शान्तिः), and in much of its body one can infer an underlying implication that everything is divine, and that divinity is present everywhere. For instance, the divine is visualized as being present in, among other things:

·         every form - great (“महद्भ्य:”), or small (“क्षुल्लकेभ्य:”), absent (“विरूपेभ्य:”) or all-encompassing (“विश्वरूपेभ्य:”),

·         every object - in trees (“वन्यः”), sounds (“श्रवाय”), horses (“अश्वेभ्य:”), clouds (“मेघ्याय”), lightning (“विद्युत्याय”), dew drops (“निवेष्प्याय”), in the flow of a river (“प्रवाह्याय”), and in green leaves (“पर्ण्याय”)

·         every action - sleeping (“स्वपद्भ्यो”), awake (“जाग्रद्भ्य:") or running (“धावद्भ्य:")

·         every occupation - chairman (“भापतिभ्य:), commander (“सेनानिभ्य:”), driver (“क्षत्तृभ्य:”), carpenter (“तक्षभ्य:”), potter (“कुलालेभ्य:”), fisherman (“निशादेभ्य:”), hunter (“म्रुगयुभ्यः”), or even a dacoit (“आरण्यानां पति:”))

·         every shape - huge (“बृहते”), short (“वामनाय”), old (“वृद्धाय”)

·         every place - whether a thorny forest (“काटयाय"), a river (“तीर्थ्याय”),  dust (“पागुम्सव्याय”), or in the hearts of gods (विक्षीणकेभ्यः)

·         every characteristic  - one who is terrifying (“भीमाय”) as well as one who confers happiness (“शंकराय”), and omnipresent (“आशवे")).

The Sri Rudram is also known as Rudra Upanishad and Shata Rudriyam(since Sri  Rudra is visualized in hundreds of forms).


A Bird’s Eye View of Sri Rudram

The Sri Rudram consists of 11 stanzas (Anuvakas).  Lord Rudra is pacified through praise and prayer in the first stanza.  Stanzas 2 through 9 propitiate the Lord by chanting names that evoke His attributes of omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience. The tenth stanza consists of prayers seeking favorable treatment. The eleventh stanza offers salutations to the innumerable Rudra Ganas. This is followed by the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra,also known as the Thriyambaka Mantra, a prayer to the three-eyed Lord Shiva, seeking protection from death and to remain steadfast in the path to salvation.


The sacred five-syllable Panchakshari Mantra  (ॐ नमशिवाय - consisting of the 5 syllables Na-Ma-Shi-Vaa-Ya ) appears in the 8th stanza. The Panchakshari Mantra is located roughly three quarters into the Sri Rudram,  and is therefore at the heart of Sri Rudram, if the Sri Rudram were compared to a human body.  Sri Lakshmana Sastry, a Hindu priest, Ritwik and scholar (Dwivedi) in the Rig and Yajur Vedas, explains that “whoever chants the powerful Panchakshari Mantra will be blessed by Lord Shiva and HE will remove all our fears.”



Chamakam: Prayer for fulfillment

The Sri Rudram is also known as the Namakam, since most lines end with “Namah  (नमः), a word used to offer salutations. Chanting of the Sri Rudram is always followed by the chanting of another collection of sacred verses called the Chamakam, so called because all the lines end with the word “Chamay” (चमे) which may be loosely translated as “grant me”. The Chamakam also consists of eleven stanzas and its rhythmic rendering is pleasing to hear. It starts with a prayer welcoming the Lord (dhyumnir vaaje bhiraagatham - ध्युम्नैर्वाजेभिरागतं”), and concludes with a vow to be sweet in thought, word and deed (madhu manishye madhu janishye madhu vakshyaami madhu vadishyaami - मधु मनिष्ये मधु जनिष्ये मधु वक्ष्यामि मधु वदिष्यामि), followed by a peace invocation ( शान्ति शान्ति शान्तिः).  The body of Chamakam is a prayer for the grant of 343 boons that cover all that is required for fulfilled life. The boons include happiness, knowledge, food, progeny, health, strength, wealth, and abundance. 



Nyasa: Purification of the Body

Chanting of the Sri Rudram is always preceded by “Nyasa” - a symbolic purification of the body by touching various parts of the body from head to toe in a specific sequence, accompanied by the chanting of various mantras. There are two forms of the Nyasa, a brief form called Laghunyasa  (लघुन्यास:), and an elaborate form called the Mahanyasa (महान्यास:).



Powers of Ekadasha

The Sri Rudram is often chanted multiple times in powers of 11 (ekadashaएकादश). The count corresponding to each power of 11 has a special name:


·    Chanting Sri Rudram 1 time is called “Roopam

·   Chanting Sri Rudram 11 times is called “Laghu Rudram”.

·    Chanting Sri Rudram 11x11=121 times is called “Rudra Ekadasini

·    Chanting Sri Rudram 11x11x11=1331 times is called “Maha Rudram”.

·    Chanting Sri Rudram 11x11x11x11=14641 times is called “Ati Rudram”.


The number of rounds of recitation is multiplied by the number of participating Ritwiks in deriving the above count. In many of the forms above, chanting of the Sri Rudram is accompanied by an Abhishekam (ritual bathing) of a Shiva Linga with sanctified water and other prescribed materials, and is followed by a Havan.


When the Sri Rudram is chanted once (Roopam), it is followed by a full recitation of the Chamakam. When the Sri Rudram is chanted multiple times, each recitation is followed by one stanza from the Chamakam. As a result, Chamakam, which has 11 stanzas, gets fully chanted once for every 11 recitations of  the Sri Rudram. The Hindu Temple of New Hampshire will be observing the Maha Rudram form, and hence the Sri Rudram will be chanted 1331 times. 




The Hindu Temple of New Hampshire will celebrate Maha Shivartri on Thursday, February 27, 2014 this year. We invite you to visit the Temple on this auspicious day, and participate in the celebration and in the listening or chanting of the Sri Rudram. You can also host a chanting of Sri Rudram in your own home by sponsoring a Chant for Dharma  to support the Hindu Temple of New Hampshire (please send an email to rveermani@gmail.com for more details).


विद्यासु श्रुतिरुत्क्रुष्टा रुद्रैकादशिनी श्रुतौ |

तत्र पञ्चाक्षरी तयं शिव इत्यक्षरद्वयं ||

vidyaasu srutirutkrushtaa rudraikaadasini srutau |

tatra panchaaksharee tasyam shiva ityaksharadvayam ||


“Among the sources of knowledge, the Vedas are supreme; in the Vedas, Rudra Ekadasini is supreme; in the Rudram the five syllable mantra ‘Na-ma-Shi-vaa-ya’ is supreme; in the Namashivaya mantra the two syllables ‘Shi-va’ stand supreme. “


References: Sri Rudram” (Tamil) by Anna, Ramakrishna Mutt, Mylapore, Chennai, India.


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