Towards Personal God from Svetastavatar Upanishad

Categories : Spirituality

During the older Upanishadic period, the Vedic sages remained occupied in confirming the concept of Infinite, Eternal and Absolute Brahma without any attributes. Their attempts are recorded mainly in the Brihadaranyak, Chhandogya and Katha Upanishads. Some statements in those Upanishads have continued to remain afloat as Mahavakyas (great statements). The Vedantic philosophy has remained based on these statements. Some examples are given below.

  1. Idam Sarvam Yadyamatma (All this is Atma) – Brihadaranyak 2/4/6, 4/5/7
  2. Aham Bramhasmi (I am Brahma) – Brihadaranyak 1/4/10
  3. Tat Tvam Asi (You are that) – Chhandogya Upanishad 6/8/7, 6/9/4, 6/14/3
  4. Aya Matma Brahma (Atma is Brahma) – Brihadaranyak 2/5/19

Sages utilized Gyan, Atma, Brahma, Visva, and Pragya as alternatives during discourses relating to the description of Brahma. The metaphysical environment ruling during the 7th – 6th Century BCE when Buddhism and Jainism were being founded was related to the philosophy propounded by older Upanishads. Pragyanam Brahma (Knowledge is Brahma) was also an important statement.

However, the Svetastavatar Upanishad indicates a change in time during which the said Upanishad was composed. Gautam Buddha and Mahavir had become personal Gods. The philosophical discourses relating to Sankhya and Yoga were floating. Poorva Mimansa and Uttar Mimansa may have been in their initial stages. Svetastavatar Upanishad mentions Sankhya, Prakriti, Purush etc. in its discourses.

The name Svetastavatar has been derived from the name of the sage who taught the philosophy contained in the Upanishad. It consists of two words – Svet (Pure) and Ashwa (sense organs). The Upanishad belongs to the Taitteriya School of Krishna Yajurveda.

The Svetastavatar Upanishad had a different objective. Its objective was to identify Rudra as the Supreme manifestation of Brahma. In the earlier Rigvedic period Rudra was depicted as a fearsome deity associated with the destructive power of nature exemplified by storms and lightning. In the later Rig-Vedic period He began to be referred to as Shiva or Mahadeva. The Svetastavatar Upanishad established Him as the true manifestation of Brahma worthy of being worshipped as a personal God. The Upanishad establishes Him as an all-powerful deity having omniscience and omnipresence.

The Svetastavatar Upanishad teaches about the unity which exists between individual souls and the world with the supreme reality, the Rudra. The subtle change which is found in the philosophy of this Upanishad might have been due to the exigencies of the prevailing times.

The following shlokas of the Upanishad are relevant in portraying the change in the conceptualization of Brahma. It may be an attempt to reconcile conflicting views.

Chapter 1:

क्षरं प्रधानममृताक्षरं हरः क्षरात्मानावीशते देव एकः

तस्याभिध्यानाद्योजनात्तत्त्वभावात् भूयश्चान्ते विश्वमायानिवृत्तिः १०॥


Prakriti is perishable. Hara, the Lord, is immortal and imperishable. The non-dual Supreme Self rules both prakriti and the individual soul. Through constant meditation on Him, by union with Him, by the knowledge of identity with Him, one attains, in the end, cessation of the illusion of phenomena.

Chapter 3:

एको हि रुद्रो द्वितीयाय तस्थुर्य इमाँल्लोकानीशत ईशनीभिः

प्रत्यङ् जनास्तिष्ठति सञ्चुकोचान्तकाले संसृज्य विश्वा भुवनानि गोपाः २॥


Rudra is truly one; for the knowers of Brahman do not admit the existence of a second, He alone rules all the worlds by His powers. He dwells as the inner Self of every living being. After having created all the worlds, He, their Protector, takes them back into Himself at the end of time.

या ते रुद्र शिवा तनूरघोराऽपापकाशिनी

तया नस्तनुवा शन्तमया गिरिशन्ताभिचाकशीहि ५॥


O Rudra, Thou who dwellest in the body and bestows happiness! Look upon us with that most blessed form of Thine, which is auspicious, unterrifying and all good.

सर्वानन शिरोग्रीवः सर्वभूतगुहाशयः

सर्वव्यापी भगवांस्तस्मात् सर्वगतः शिवः ११॥


All faces are His faces; all heads, His heads; all necks, His necks. He dwells in the hearts of all beings. He is the all-pervading Bhagavan. Therefore, He is the omnipresent and benign Lord.

Chapter 4:

यो देवानां प्रभवश्चोद्भवश्च विश्वाधिपो रुद्रो महर्षिः

हिरण्यगर्भं पश्यत जायमानं नो बुद्ध्या शुभया संयुनक्तु १२॥


He, the creator of the gods and the bestower of their powers, the Support of the universe, Rudra the omniscient, who at the beginning gave birth to Hiranyagarbha-may He endow us with clear intellect!

सूक्ष्मातिसूक्ष्मं कलिलस्य मध्ये विश्वस्य स्रष्ठारमनेकरूपम्

विश्वस्यैकं परिवेष्टितारं ज्ञात्वा शिवं शान्तिमत्यन्तमेति १४॥


By realising Him who is subtler than the subtlest who dwells amidst the chaos, who is the Creator of all things and is endowed with many forms, who is the non-dual Pervader of the universe and all good. By realising Him one attains the supreme peace.

एव काले भुवनस्य गोप्ता विश्वाधिपः सर्वभूतेषु गूढः

यस्मिन् युक्ता ब्रह्मर्षयो देवताश्च तमेवं ज्ञात्वा मृत्युपाशांश्छिनत्ति १५॥


It is He who, in proper time, becomes the custodian of the universe and the sovereign of all; who conceals Himself in all beings as their inner Witness; and in whom the sages and the deities are united. Verily, by knowing Him one cuts under the fetters of death.

घृतात् परं मण्डमिवातिसूक्ष्मं ज्ञात्वा शिवं सर्वभूतेषु गूढम्

विश्वस्यैकं परिवेष्टितारं ज्ञात्वा देवं मुच्यते सर्वपाशैः १६॥


He who knows Brahman, who is all Bliss, extremely subtle, like the film that rises to the surface of clarified butter and is hidden in all beings. He who knows the radiant Deity, the sole pervader of the universe, is released from all his fetters.

अजात इत्येवं कश्चिद्भीरुः प्रपद्यते

रुद्र यत्ते दक्षिणं मुखं तेन मां पाहि नित्यम् २१॥


It is because Thou, O Lord, art birthless, that some rare souls, frightened by birth and death, take refuge in Thee. O Rudra, may Thy benign face protect me forever!

Chapter 6:

तमीश्वराणां परमं महेश्वरं तं देवतानां परमं दैवतम्

पतिं पतीनां परमं परस्ताद्विदाम देवं भुवनेशमीड्यम् ७॥


We know Him who is the Supreme Lord of lords, the Supreme Deity of deities, the Ruler of rulers; who is higher than the imperishable prakriti and is the self-luminous, adorable Lord of the world.

तस्य कार्यं करणं विद्यते तत्समश्चाभ्यधिकश्च दृश्यते

परास्य शक्तिर्विविधैव श्रूयते स्वाभाविकी ज्ञानबलक्रिया ८॥


He is without a body or organs; none like unto Him is seen, or better than He. The Vedas speak of His exalted power, which is innate and capable of producing diverse effects and also of His omniscience and might.