The early history of the imagery of rudra within the Indo-Aryan tradition (as an ortholog of the deities elsewhere in the Indo-European world, like Apollo and Odin) can be traced through a large body of texts. These include in approximate chronological order:
1) The earliest layer in the R^igveda – RV 1.43; 1.114; 2.33 and 6.74 among others.
2) The nIlarudra and atharva-rudra sUkta-s of the AV-P and and AV-vulgate respectively.
3) The shatarUdrIya and the tryaMbaka homa mantra-s of the yajur-veda saMhitA-s.
4) The vrAtya rudra sUkta (AV-vulgate 15.5).
5) The shUlagava mantra-s/kaushItakI shUlgava section.
6) The mahAnArAyaNopaniShat.
7) The shvetAshavataropaniShat.
8) The atharvashiras.
9) The AV parishiShTha on the pAshupata vrata.
10) The mahAbharata – the ajAnana-virachita rudra stotra.
11) The harivaMsha – viShNu-virachita rudra stotra.
These offer an opportunity to examine the continuity and evolution in the emergence of the imagery of rudra. We shall now briefly examine the last of the above-mentioned texts. In several ways it is related to the ajAnana-virachita rudra stotra attributed to dakSha after he was revived with the head of a goat by rudra. It is found in the 87th chapter of the 3rd parvan of the vulgate text of the harivaMsha and is supposed to have been composed by viShNu to praise rudra. The entire stotra is given below:
namaste shitikaNThAya nIlagrIvAya vedhase |
namaste shochiShe astu namaste upavAsine ||3-87-13
namaste mIDhuShe astu namaste gadine hara |
namaste vishvatanave vR^iShAya vR^iSharUpiNe ||3-87-14
amUrtAya cha devAya namaste.astu pinAkine |
namaH kubjAya kUpAya shivAya shivarUpiNe ||3-87-15
namas tuShTAya tuNDAya namas tuTituTAya cha |
namaH shivAya shAntAya girishAya cha te namaH ||3-87-16
namo harAya viprAya namo hariharAya cha |
namo.aghorAya ghorAya ghora-ghora-tarAya cha ||3-87-17
namo.aghaNTAya ghaNTAya namo ghaTighaTAya cha |
namaH shivAya shAntAya girishAya cha te namaH ||3-87-18
namo virUparUpAya purAya purahAriNe |
nama AdyAya bIjAya shuchaye.aShTasvarUpiNe ||3-87-19
namaH pinAkahastAya namaH shUlAsidhAriNe |
namaH khaTvA~Nga-hastAya namaste kR^ittivAsase ||3-87-20
namaste devadevAya nama AkAsha-mUrtaye |
harAya hari-rUpAya namaste tigmatejase ||3-87-21
bhaktapriyAya bhaktAya bhaktAnAM varadAyine |
namo.abhramUrtaye deva jagan-mUrtidharAya cha ||3-87-22
namash-chandrAya devAya sUryAya cha namo namaH |
namaH pradhAna-devAya bhUtAnAM-pataye namaH ||3-87-23
karAlAya cha muNDAya vikR^itAya kapardine |
ajAya cha namastubhyaM bhUtabhAvanabhAvana ||3-87-24
namo.astu harikeshAya pi~NgalAya namo namaH |
namaste.abhIShuhastAya bhIrubhIruharAya cha ||3-87-25
harAya bhItirUpAya ghorANAM-bhItidAyine |
namo dakSha-makhaghnAya bhaga-netrApahAriNe ||3-87-26
umApate namastubhyaM kailAsa-nilayAya cha |
AdidevAya devAya bhavAya bhavarUpiNe ||3-87-27
namaH kapAlahastAya namo.aja-mathanAya cha |
tryambakAya namastubhyaM tryakShAya cha shivAya cha ||3-87-28
varadAya vareNyAya namaste chandrashekhara |
nama idhmAya haviShe dhruvAya cha kR^ishAya cha ||3-87-29
namaste shaktiyuktAya nAgapAshapriyAya cha |
virUpAya surUpAya madya-pAna-priyAya cha ||3-87-30
shmashAna-rataye nityaM jaya-shabda-priyAya cha |
khara-priyAya kharvAya kharAya khara-rUpiNe ||3-87-31
bhadra-priyAya bhadrAya bhadra-rUpa-dharAya cha |
virUpAya surUpAya mahAghorAya te namaH ||3-87-32
ghaNTAya ghaNTabhUShAya ghaNTa-bhUShaNa-bhUShiNe |
tIvrAya tIvra-rUpAya tIvra-rUpa-priyAya cha ||3-87-33
nagnAya nagna-rUpAya nagna-rUpa-priyAya cha |
bhUtAvAsa namastubhyaM sarvAvAsa namo namaH ||3-87-34
namaH sarvAtmane tubhyam namaste bhUtidAyaka |
namaste vAmadevAya mahAdevAya te namaH ||3-87-35
kA nu vAk-stuti-rUpA te ko nu stotuM prashaknuyAt |
kasya vA sphurate jihvA stutau stutimatAM vara ||3-87-36
kShamasva bhagavan-deva bhakto.ahaM trAhi mAM hara |
sarvAtman-sarvabhUtesha trAhi mAM satatam hara||3-87-37
rakSha deva jagannAtha lokAn sarvAtmanA hara |
trAhi bhaktAn sadA deva bhaktapriya sadA hara ||3-87-38
The attributes that can be traced to earlier texts are:
shitikaNTha (the fair-throated one): YV saMhitA
nIlagrIva (the blue-throated one): YV saMhitA; AV-P
mIDhuShaH (bountiful): RV saMhitA; YV saMhitA; Apastamba mantra-prashna
vR^iSha (the bull): RV saMhitA
deva (the god): RV saMhitA; AV-vulgate; tANDya brAhmaNa
pinAkin (the holder of the pinAka bow): AV-vul; AV-P; YV saMhitA; AV-parishiShTha
shiva (the auspicious one): RV saMhitA; YV saMhitA; AV-vul; AV-P; shvetAshavatara
girisha (mountain rover): YV; AV-P
hara (destroyer): maitrAyaNIya saMhitA; shvetAshavatara; AshvalAyana gR^ihyasUtra; bodhAyana mantraprashna; ApastaMba mantraprashna
aghora (benign): YV-maitrAyaNIya; mahAnArAyaNa; AV-parishiShTha
ghora (terrible): YV-maitrAyaNIya; mahAnArAyaNa; AV-parishiShTha
ghoratara (most terrible): YV-maitrAyaNIya; mahAnArAyaNa; AV-parishiShTha
virUpa (many formed): YV-saMhita
purahAriN (destroyer of the 3 cities): as in tripurAntaka brAhmaNa, i.e., YV-taittirIya brAhmaNa
aShTasvarUpin (8 formed): The 8 names come in the shUlagava mantra, e.g. Apastamba mantraprashna; kaushItakI brAhmaNa; shatapata brAhmaNa
pinAkahasta (holder of the pinAka): YV-saMhitA
kR^ittivAsas (clad in hides): YV-saMhitA
bhUtAnAMpati (lord of the beings): as bhUtapati in AV-Vulgate; AV-P; aitareya-brAhmaNa
muNDa (clean shaven): AV-parishiShTha; as in vyuptakesha in YV-saMhitA
kapardin (with knotted locks): RV-saMhitA; YV-saMhitA; AshvalAyana gR^ihyasUtra; AV-parishiShTha
aja (unborn): shvetAshavatara
harikesha (green/yellow haired): YV-saMhitA
pi~Ngala (tawny): mahAnArAyaNopaniShat; AV-parishiShTha (e.g. uchChuShma and goshAnti)
dakSha-makhaghna (destroyer of dakSha’s ritual): alluded in gopatha-brAhmaNa as destroyer of prajApati’s yAga and AV-parishiShTha in graha-saMgraha
bhaga-netrApahArin (destroyer of bhaga’s eyes): gopatha-brAhmaNa
umApati (husband of umA): mahAnArAyaNopaniShat
bhava (all existence): RV-saMhitA; RV-khila; AV-vul; AV-P; YV saMhitA; Apastamba mantra-prashna; kaushItakI brAhmaNa; shatapata brAhmaNa; AV-parishiShTha
kapAlahasta (skull-wielder): as in kapAlin AV-parishiShTha
tryambaka (the three eyed one): RV-saMhitA; YV-saMhitA; YV-brAhmaNa-s; gopatha brAhmaNa; AV-parishiShTha
dhruva (firm): shvetAshavatara
khara-priya/khara-rUpin (with donkeys): equivalent of the gardabhau mentioned in the AV-P
vAmadeva (the beautiful god): mahAnArAyaNopaniShat
mahAdeva (the great god): AV-vul; AV-P; YV saMhitA; kaushItakI brAhmaNa; AV-parishiShTha
The above analysis shows that the majority of epithets of rudra in this stuti are of Vedic provenance and cover the entire temporal spectrum of Vedic development all the way from the RV to the late upaniShat and parishiShTha texts. However, the stuti shows some developments that have no apparent precedence in much of the surviving Vedic corpus:
1) rudra as the bearer of the shUla. Right in the RV, rudra is repeatedly described as tigmAyudha or tigmaheti, i.e., one with a sharp weapon (may be a cognate of Odin’s spear). However, nowhere is this weapon specified as being a shUla or a trishUla. The word shUla itself occurs in the RV and means a stake, such as that used to roast sacrificial meat in the ashvamedha ritual (could be a doubtful cognate of greek Xulon). In the shUlagava ritual described in the gR^ihya sUtra-s the term again is for the sacrificial stake. But as the name for the sharp weapon of rudra it becomes apparent only in the epic. This points to a semantic expansion of the word shUla to include a sharp weapon. With this expansion, it appears to have taken the place of the tigmAyudha of the veda, perhaps via its use in the shUlagava of rudra. However, it should be noted that the vajra or the thunder-bolt is regarded as a weapon of rudra right from the RV itself. Similarly, tridents are archaeologically attested in depictions on Indus and Mesopotamian sites that overlap temporally with the Vedic period. The bronze age deities of the Middle East are routinely shown with tridents: e.g. Enlil. In many of these bronze age Eurasian icons the trident held by a deity actually stands for the thunder-bolt, which is an equivalent of the vajra (e.g. the iconography of the Hittite Tarhun=Teshub). Hence, it is possible that the trishUla in the classical Agama/purANa iconography of rudra is a conflation of the original vajra, which was historically shown as three-pronged, and the tigmAyudha, which had come to be known as the shUla (as in the above stuti).
2) The khaTvA~Nga/kapAla. The skull as an attribute of rudra is not mentioned in the core saMhitA-s of the shruti and only finds mention in the AV-parishiShTha. Now, the khaTvA~Nga or the skull-topped brand as an attribute of rudra is clearly mentioned for the first time in the texts of great epic layer, for example, as seen in this stuti. Apastamba states in his dharmasUtra (APS 1.28-29) that a murderer who has committed the great sin of killing a brAhmaNa should use a kapAla as a bowl and carry a khaTvA~Nga. Similar gautama states that a brAhmaNa killer should live a celibate life for twelve years carrying a kapAla and a khaTvA~Nga and proclaiming his sin while begging for food (GDS 22.4). A similar statement is found in the baudhAyana dharmasUtra (BDS 22.214.171.124) along with the further injunction that the sinner lives in the cremation ground. The tale of rudra killing prajApati is seen in the RV itself and is repeatedly described in the brAhmaNa-s. This act might have associated rudra, even in the vedic period, with brahmahatyA, as it is done in the purANa-s. This appears to have been the precedence for the transference of the brahmaghna’s attributes to rudra. The celebration of the skull as a “positive” attribute of rudra rather than as a mark of his “dark” side emerges in the purANa-s like the skanda puraNa (vulgate). In the avantikhANDa there is tale of how kapAla-s repeatedly appear in the middle of the vedI when the brAhmaNa-s are performing a ritual to rudra. The brAhmaNa-s place these skulls outside the yaj~nashAlA each time one appears as they were thought to be desecrating the fire. This resulted in a pyramid of skulls accumulating outside the yaj~nashAlA in a particular spot. The brAhmaNa-s later discovered that these skulls were marking the site of the great li~Nga of mahAkAla.
3) The cremation ground dweller/delighter, shmashAna-rati. In the pAraskAra gR^ihyasUtra (3.15) it is declared that one should invoke rudra with the initial R^ik-s of the shatarudrIya, especially when one is passing by cross roads or a cremation ground. This suggests that there was an ancient link between rudra and the cremation grounds, among other wild places, which was more explicitly developed in the texts of the epic layer.
4) chandrashekhara. Right from the veda, rudra was identified with the sun and the moon. Thus, in the rudra recitation of the kaushitaki brAhmaNa we have: “yan mahAn deva Adityas tena |” and “yad rudrash chandramAs tena |”. This is reproduced in the above stuti in: “namash-chandrAya devAya sUryAya cha namo namaH |”. However, in the texts associated with the great epic we have for the first time an iconographic regarding rudra as the bearer of the lunar digit. A lunar association of rudra might be concealed under the vaidika dvandva “somArudrA”. Also related to this link is the fact that in the Eurasian bronze age we find several horned deities. At least in Mesopotamia the bovine horns are taken to represent the crescent moon (e.g. on Nannar or Marduk’s headgear). Hence, it is possible that the lunar crest of rudra is a more direct representation of the horns that are so common in the iconography of bronze age Eurasian deities.
5) The lover of liquors, madya-pAna-priya. The use of psycho-active substances by rudra and his followers is not unknown in the veda itself. In the famous sUkta of the keshin-s (RV 10.136) the keshin drinks the viSha prepared from the kunannamA seeds. While the above stuti explicitly associates liquor with rudra, we can trace the beginning of this association to a special ritual action in the preparation of the beer offered in the Vedic sautramaNI ritual. The shatapatha brAhmaNa states (126.96.36.199) that the powdered hair of the lion, tiger and wolf are mixed into the beer because if he mixed the powder into the milk cups he would offer his cattle to rudra pashupati. The liquor is associated with rudra because it makes one “raudra” upon drinking. By putting the hair powder in the beer the ritualist unites the animals which belongs to rudra with him. Thus, pashupati only goes with the wild animals and spares the yajamAna’s domestic animals. In any case the explicit mention in this stuti is an important point because it marks a development in the direction of worship that was to become typical of the vama and bhairava srotas and their kaula evolutes.
6) kubja, the crooked one. This appellation is striking because it was to reappear much later in the tradition of the kubjikA-mata,where rudra is called kubjIshana. At first sight this might seem convergent and based on the name of the shakti kubjikA. But we strongly suspect this is not a coincidence. In fact we suspect that the name has a long history that goes back to the earliest Vedic layers. In RV 1.114 he is called va~Nku that has a meaning similar to kubja. Thus, kubja in the context of rudra and his shakti kubjikA in the mantra-mArga appear to have descended from this old epithet.
The historical importance of this stuti is in establishing the relative era when the classical iconography of rudra became prevalent and also providing evidence for the emergence of certain attributes that were magnified in the non-saiddhAntika srotAMsi. The saiddhAntika srotas emphasizes the benign facets, and “clean” of rudra (now transcending his previous rudra forms as the supreme deity of the Urdhvasrotas, sadAshiva). The other srotAMsi emphasize the terrible, the ferocious and “unclean” aspects of rudra in different combinations and degrees or all of them together. There is hardly any doubt that in the veda the dread of rudra is repeatedly alluded to. To consider a few examples:
1) In the agnihotra ritual the hotar holds out the sruk two times to the north. With this he pleases rudra in his own direction (north) and rudra goes away pleased. If the yajamAna were to stand to the north when the offering is being made he comes in the way of the fierce rudra and could be seized by him (kaushitaki brAhmaNa 2.2, also mentioned in the kaTha and maitrAyaNIya saMhitA-s, gopatha brAhmaNa of the AV tradition, and in the shA~NkhAyana brAhmaNa the northward offering is combined for rudra with Ursa Major). The kaTha and maitrAyanIya texts explain that during this agnihotra offering rudra must be implored for mercy using the mantra-s that contain the special names of rudra, anAbhu (ruthless; anArbhava among the North Indian kaTha-s) and dhUrta (roguish; subsequently this dhUrta mantra is transferred to kumAra). These names are said to be dreadful manifestations of rudra that destroy animals. By using these names he pleases rudra and pacifies him with respect to the yajamAna. At the same time he destroys or drives away those who illegitimately partake of the offerings and harm his ritual.
2) In the tradition of the kaTha-s and the maitrAyaNIya-s a special agnihotra of 12 days is offered if rudra seizes his animals. In this ritual as per the kaTha-s he makes a recitation of an offering mantra where he replaces the name rudra with jAtavedas – an euphemism to avoid the dread of rudra. In the KS and MS it is mentioned that rudra smears the plants with poison and so the cattle are unable to eat it. The poison is removed by prajApati via the action of agni. This is given as reason for the samidh offered to prajApati, and at the same time evokes the dread to rudra.
3) The tradition of the aitareya brAhmaNa the hotar introduces peculiar vikR^iti-s to the R^ik RV 2.33.1 so that the fury of rudra does not fall on the yajamAna:
In place of the actual mantra he recites:
A te pitar marutAM sumnam etu mA naH sUryasya sandR^iSho yuyothAH |
tvaM no vIro arvati kShameta pra jAyemahi rudriya prajAbhiH ||
This brAhmaNa tradition holds that by using “tvaM naH” in place of the original “abhi naH” rudra is not directed toward the yajamAna’s family and cattle. By using rudriya instead of rudra he reduces the terror arising from the mention of the real name of rudra, who has just been described in the brAhmaNa as having slain prajApati. Alternatively the hotar might entirely drop this mantra and substitute it with the gAyatrI to rudra composed by gotamo rAhUgaNa (RV 1.43.6):
shaM naH karatyarvate sugaM meShAya meShye | nR^ibhyo nAribhyo gave ||
The brAhmaNa explains this substitution by indicating that this mantra does not mention rudra by name and thereby averts the terror arising from the mention of his name. Secondly, it begins with the positive word shaM, which indicates auspiciousness.
From these points a paradoxical point of note emerges: On one hand, the veda, while stressing the dread of rudra, avoids any detailed description of the dreadful and unclean forms of rudra and tries to primarily describe his benign facets. The tendency is amplified in the tradition outlined in the aitareya in the substitution followed in the rudra mantra. This is in keeping with the general tendency in the vedic ritual where there is a strong tendency to avoid the mention of dreadful aspects of rudra in ones vicinity. On the other hand, there appears to be a countercurrent (e.g. the agnihotra mantra-s of the KS and MS) to specifically mention the dreadful names of rudra as a means of appeasing his dreadful aspects (also seen to certain degree in the shatarudrIya of the YV saMhitA-s). This appears to represent an ancestral paradox in the rituals to rudra, a dimorphism that appears to have continued in course of the development of the sectarian shaiva system and Hindu literature. In the early layers of the shiva shAsana, there was an emphasis on the benign face of rudra (e.g. his name shiva) and a stress on ritual purity in his worship. This trend is dominant in the shvetAshvatara, atharvashiras and the system of the pAshupata vrata expounded in the AV parishiShTha-s and the pAshupata sUtra-s. It was this tendency that continued with the lakula-s and their kAlAmukha successors and eventually came to be the mainstay of the siddhAnta tantra-s of the mantra mArga with sadAshiva as their central devatA. The above stuti suggests that there was probably a counter-current wherein the emphasis was on the terrible and the unclean aspects of rudra (the stuti gives “both sides of the coin”) even within the early shiva shAsana. This is encapsulated in the names like kapAlin, khaTvA~Ngin, shmashAna-rati, madya-pAna-priya, nagna and making of frightening noises: ghaTighaTa or tuTituTa (compare with names of early bhUta tantra-s of the pashchima srotas: hAhAkAraM, shivAravaM, ghorATTahAsaM and ghurghuraM). This led to the kApAlika tradition of the atimArga that was a mirror of the more purity emphasizing pAshupata-s (that is the version of the atimArga based on the somasiddhAnta texts).