Essays About Shaivism

History, Philosophy, Beliefs and Practices of Shaivism,

Shiva as Rudra, the Vedic Connection


The ancient Vedic people worshipped a fierce celestial deity of storms, known as Rudra, who, according to many scholars, was none other than a prototype of Lord Shiva. Rudra being an epithet of Shiva, both are viewed as one and the same in Hindu tradition. Rudra means the one who is red or fierce. The ancient Vedic Indians feared Rudra for his ability to cause death and disease. They also revered Him for his ability to protect people from sudden death and snake bites. The Vedic hymns described Him as the god of roaring storms and ancient healer. The Rigveda (2.33) describes Him as the "Father of the Maruts", a group of storm gods. One of the most sacred hymns of the Vedas is Rudram, found both in the Rigveda and Yajurveda, which invokes Rudra and mentions the name Shiva several times, not in the current sense but as an epithet of Indra, Mitra and Agni. While popular tradition holds the Vedic Rudra and Shiva as one and the same, some scholars such Axel Michales disagree on the grounds that there is not sufficient justification to connect the two.

The Rigvedi hymns describe Rudra as as Sarva (the Archer), a name by which Shiva is also known popularly and name which alludes to his conneciton with ancient non-Vedic tribes. It is also included as one of His 1000 names, which are used in his ritual worship. In the Mahabharata, Shiva appears to Arjuna as an archer only. The name Sarva, means the one who injurs or kills, the same attributes with which Rudra is deified in the Vedas.

Identification with Vedic deities

In the Vedic literature, Shiva was closely identified with other Vedic deities such as Agni, Indra, Prajāpati, Vāyu, and others.


According to some scholars, the identification between Agni and Rudra in the Vedic literature was an important factor in the process of Rudra's gradual development into the later character as Rudra-Shiva.. the Nirukta, an ancient text of Sanskrit etymology, draws the connection between the two, saying Agni is also Rudra. Agni being the sustainer as well destroyer of life, the connection between the two is inevitable. According to Stella Kramrisch, The fire myth of Rudra-Śiva plays on the whole gamut of fire, valuing all its potentialities and phases, from conflagration to illumination. The similarities between the two deities is evident in the Satarudriya (Rigveda), where some epithets, such as sasipanjara (of the golden red hue) and tivasjamati (flaming bright) envision Siva as a God of fire. In some of the Vedic hymns Agni is also described as a bull and bull, known as Nandi, is the vehicle of Shiva. In some texts Agni is described as Bhairava, which is one of the epithets of Shiva. Shiva's association with Agni is also evident in the symbolic presentation of Shiva as the Lord of Dance (nataraja), where he is shown dancing in a circle of fire.


Indra was the supreme deity of the early Vedic religion. He is considered to be the God of thunder and the Lord of the heavnes. He wields lightning as his weapon, slews the dark monsters (clouds) of the skies and releases the water for the welfare of the people on earth. He also sends terror in the hearts of the enemies of His worshippers. He is described as a great warrior who destroyed several cities ruled by evil demons. According to some scholars as the popularity of the early Vedic deities decline and new gods such as Shiva and Vishnu emerged on the scene, some of the early descriptions associated with Indra were subsequently transferred to Shiva. According to the Indologist Koenraad Elst, there are reasons to believe that Shiva of Puranic Hinduism is a continuation of the Vedic Indra. For example, both Shiva and Indra are known for their addiction to Soma. Both are associated with such popular symbols as mountains, rivers, male fertility, fierceness, fearlessness, warfare, transgression of established mores, the Aum sound, and the Supreme Self. Besides in the Rig Veda, the term Shiva is used as an epithet to describe Indra. (R.V 2.20.3, 6.45.17,and 8.93.3)


Source: Some content for this article is adapted from with necessary changes.