Ishavasyopanishad and Dakshinamurthy (ईशावास्योपनिशत् दक्षिणामूर्तिः च)

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The magnificent edifice of Dakshinamurthy, in the temple of Srikalahastishvara in Andhra Pradesh, considered as an embodiment of the Ishavasyopanishad itself, exquisitely depicts the core Upanishadic substance "Brahma Satyam (ब्रह्मसत्यम्)" of the shanti patha of Ishavasyopanishad. It stands as a testimony of expertise of the sculptors, both in agama shastras (required for temple construction) and the tattvashastras (knowledge of philosophy). The present article is an excerpt from the book Ishavasyopanishad - Satyavrata Bhaskara Kshetram.

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

No other divine form can better represent the attributes of Satya (Universal Truth), Jnana (Knowledge of the Supreme Brahman), Ananta (Boundless), and the qualities of Namelessness, Formlessness and Immovability as does 'Dakshinamurthy' who is the very personification of the supreme entity. Dakshinamurthy portrays the Supreme knowledge, which is Avangmanagochara (अवाङ्मनगोचरः) or describable neither by words nor by intellect, by Jnanamudra (ज्ञानमुद्रा) - symbolic representation of perfection in Silence - the 'Oneness' of the Jivatma (Self) and Paramatma as given in the following shloka.

चित्रं वटतरोर्मूले वृद्धाः शिष्या गुरुर्युवा । गुरोस्तु मौनं व्याख्यानं शिष्यास्तुच्छिन्नसंशयाः ॥ (Daks. Stot. 3)

citraṁ vaṭatarormūle vr̥ddhāḥ śiṣyā gururyuvā । gurostu maunaṁ vyākhyānaṁ śiṣyāstucchinnasaṁśayāḥ ॥

Dakshinamurthy expounds and awakens the Supreme Knowledge, within the mind of a ripe aged seeker of Truth with a head full of doubts, arguments, debates and logics, in a strange way, by the use of 'Chinmudra' and ‘Maunam’ (Silence or Calmness of thoughts and Mind).

मौनव्याख्या ॥ Maunavyakhya

Dakshinamurthy’s Supreme form consists of ‘teaching or conversing’ through the medium of Silence, as seen in the ‘purnamadah poornamidam’ form of the mantra. This knowledge is also attainable by the ordinary seekers. All actions or deeds of a man are for the pursuit of truth. When a brahmavidya seeker perseveres, without being overcome by other distractions, with consistent effort, determination, motivation, and enthusiasm and by exercising control of the mind and thereby the senses, delving deep into self, with faith driving the one pointed urge to attain the Supreme Self - then the Parabrahma pervading inside us silently expounds the Brahmatattva and it is revealed to the Brahmajijnasu (ब्रह्मजिज्ञासुः).

चिन्मुद्रा ॥ Chinmudra

Chinmudra or Jnanamudra is a hand gesture, used during meditation, where the thumb linked to the index finger is symbolic of the 'Unity of Jivatma and Parabrahma', a concept also expounded by the mahavakya 'Tat Tvam Asi'. Shri Shankaracharya in his Vedanta Dindima treatise refers to Dakshinamurthy as the Parabrahma having the quality of Para tattva. The proclamation of Vedanta Dindima - Advaita or That One which has no second is nothing but that brilliant radiance named as Dakshinamurthy.

दक्षिणामूर्तिस्तोत्रम् ॥ Dakshinamurthy Stotra

Sri Kalahastishvara (Shiva) in the form of  Dakshinamurthy, preached the Advaita philosophy to three Munis namely, Shuka, Sanatkumara and Parashara. The Dakshinamurthy Stotramala composed by Sri Shankaraacharya as an exquisite Mantra extols the grand secrets of the Upanishads, a brilliant literary effort, which not only determines the Jagat swaroopa (nature of the Universe) and clarifies the universality of the Atman but also bestows on the seekers of material wealth (Jagat Bhavana) as well the adhyatmik knowledge seeker (Brahma Bhavana) alike with all prosperity. The Dakshinamurthy stotra has ten verses, two of which are given below.

मौनव्याख्या प्रकटित परब्रह्मतत्त्वं युवानं वर्षिष्ठांते वसद् ऋषिगणैः आवृतं ब्रह्मनिष्ठैः ।

आचार्येन्द्रं करकलित चिन्मुद्रमानंदमूर्तिं स्वात्मारामं मुदितवदनं दक्षिणामूर्तिमीडे ॥ (Daks. Stot. 1)

वटविटपिसमीपेभूमिभागे निषण्णं सकलमुनिजनानां ज्ञानदातारमारात् ।

त्रिभुवनगुरुमीशं दक्षिणामूर्तिदेवं जननमरणदुःखच्छेद दक्षं नमामि ॥ (Daks. Stot. 2)

maunavyākhyā prakaṭita parabrahmatattvaṁ yuvānaṁvarṣiṣṭhāṁtē vasad r̥ṣigaṇaiḥ āvr̥taṁ brahmaniṣṭhaiḥ ।ācāryēndraṁ karakalita cinmudramānaṁdamūrtiṁsvātmārāmaṁ muditavadanaṁ dakṣiṇāmūrtimīḍē ॥ (Daks. Stot. 1)

vaṭaviṭapisamīpēbhūmibhāgē niṣaṇṇaṁsakalamunijanānāṁ jñānadātāramārāt ।tribhuvanagurumīśaṁ dakṣiṇāmūrtidēvaṁjananamaraṇaduḥkhacchēda dakṣaṁ namāmi ॥ (Daks. Stot. 2)

ईशावास्योपनिशदः प्रथममन्त्रः ॥ First Mantra of Ishavasyopanishad

Sri Kalahastishvara, the foremost master, Guru of the entire world, who eradicates the afflictions and all ailments of the worldly, the master of all learning, resides in the Srikalahasti temple with the Nandi (Bull) facing the divine form of Dakshinamurthy. A silent and devoted prayer offered here dispels all doubts in the mind. The circumbulation or pradakshina of the divinity begins from here and ends here.

ईशा वास्यमिदं सर्वं यत्किञ्च जगत्यां जगत् । तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा मा गृधः कस्यस्विद्धनम् ॥ (Isav. Upan. 1)[1]

īśā vāsyamidaṁ sarvaṁ yatkiñca jagatyāṁ jagat । tēna tyaktēna bhuñjīthā mā gr̥dhaḥ kasyasviddhanam ॥ (Isav. Upan. 1)

Meaning: By the Divine is encompassed all this, whatever changing there is in this changing world. Through the renunciation of that (world) may you enjoy; may you not covet anyone’s riches.  

In the ever restless, gross and subtle world, exist millions of creatures embellished by the Parameshvara. The entire universe is a manifestation of the Supreme Consciousness. By the divine insight the maharshis were able to unravel the secrets of Srshti (Creation or Jagat) as stated in Upanishads. Jagatyaam Jagat (जगत्यां जगत्): That which can be seen and known by us is the ephemeral world - the impermanent world. But starting from the Surya which we see in the sky to the dehendriya (देहेन्द्रियः | the senses of our body) we are in delusion that all things and beings having eternal existence. In the destructible world impermanent objects and mortal beings are constantly being destroyed but everything possesses a ‘conscious movement’ within them. It is the Pure Consciousness which causes this movement, and is Sarvantaryami all pervading (residing in the Inner being) in every form of animate and inanimate existence. This omniscence is the divine spark of Parmatma as expressed as Sat, Chit, Ananda - the form of Parmatma. Name and form of any object or thing are only for a short instance which when removed reveals only Parmatma. Many vedanta texts explain this concept using the nyaya of Rajjusarpa bhranti (रज्जुसर्पभ्रान्तिः).

A rope is mistook for a serpent and from mud or clay, pots and different vessels are moulded. As long as one perceives the rope without seeing it, out of delusion in his mind he mistakes it for a serpent. For this delusion, the causal material is a rope. Once the delusion vanishes, the serpent is nonexistent and the rope is viewed as a rope. Likewise, we ignore the mud and create different objects out of it and give names to them not the mud or clay. Thus there is only One Parmatma pervading the entire Jagat and the objects therein, we are attributing various names to them. Our Oneness or Unity with or the all pervading Omniscient Parmatma is Moksha.

This Upanishad expounds that the goal of every being is to ‘see or know’ the Supreme Truth of Oneness of that all-pervading Paramatma, who by Maya manifests into various forms (manifestations) in this Jagat.

ईशावास्योपनिशद्भगवद्गीतयोः साम्यम् ॥ Ishavasyopanishad and Bhagavadgita

अविनाशि तु तद्विद्धि येन सर्वमिदं ततम् | विनाशमव्ययस्यास्य न कश्चित्कर्तुमर्हति || (Bhag. Gita 2.17)[2]

avināśhi tu tadviddhi yena sarvam idaṁ tatam | vināśham avyayasyāsya na kaśhchit kartum arhati || (Bhag. Gita 2.17)

Meaning: Know that the soul is indestructible...

बहूनां जन्मनामन्ते ज्ञानवान्मां प्रपद्यते | वासुदेव: सर्वमिति स महात्मा सुदुर्लभ: || (Bhag.Gita 7.19)[3]

bahūnāṁ janmanām ante jñānavān māṁ prapadyate | vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti sa mahātmā su-durlabhaḥ || (Bhag.Gita 7.19)

Meaning : After many births of adhyatmik practice, one who is endowed with knowledge attains me, knowing that Vasudeva is Everything. Such a great person is indeed rare.

पुरुष: स पर: पार्थ भक्त्या लभ्यस्त्वनन्यया | यस्यान्त:स्थानि भूतानि येन सर्वमिदं ततम् || (Bhag. Gita. 8. 22)[4]

puruṣhaḥ sa paraḥ pārtha bhaktyā labhyas tvananyayā | yasyāntaḥ-sthāni bhūtāni yena sarvam idaṁ tatam || (Bhag. Gita. 8. 22)

Meaning: Oh Partha ! Paramapurusha is greater than all that exists. Although he is all-pervading or the inner being of all creatures and in whom all the living beings are situated, he can be attained only through devotion and not by any other means.

Other Upanishads have also discussed the Oneness of Paramatma extensively. Bhagavan Sri Krishna extensively imparts Brahmajnana or the Oneness of the Jiva and Brahma to Arjuna in the chapters 2, 8, 9, 13, 15 of Bhagavadgita. Similarly, the first Mantra of Ishavasyopanishad is laden with the essence of all adhyatmika preachings. It lays down the conduct to be followed by Brahmajijnasus (seekers of Brahmavidya) to expel Ajnana (Ignorance) and gain Ananda (bliss). It emphasises that the path for a seeker is to ‘know’ that change is constant in this visible Jagat (Creation), it is ephemeral and the Supreme truth is that Paramatma is the only constant substance characteristically present both in animate and inanimate things of this world. This mantra explains the code of discipline to be followed by the student or seeker - abstain from sinful acts, be liberal in charity, do not seek others wealth or aspire for worldly wealth. The learned rshis have cautioned against having desires, including craving for riches and material gains as these are detrimental to adhyatmik growth. Only when desires are kept in control will one be able to perform satkarmas or good deeds and nishkama karmas or actions without expectations, by which the Ignorance dissolves.

This mantra mulls about the 'Jnanayoga'. Here 'jnana’ is understood as the knowledge that Srshti is the communion of Prakrti - Purusha. In the stage called visible world, Atma (Self), Anatma (non-self), the field of play, the players, the scenes are all combined and the ignorant cannot distinguish between them. However, the wise has the discriminatory power and separates them as rice from paddy or husk. He casts away the outer covering as peeling of the fruit and relishes the essence of the fruit. To be able to differentiate between the animate and inanimate things of the visible world from the Atma is called jnanayoga.

श्रीकालहस्तिः - ईशावास्यमिदं क्षेत्रम् || Srikalahasti - Ishavasyamidam kshetram

The Srikalahasti region in Andhra Pradesh, is spread in the dakshina Kailash mountains of 5 peaks. Within the range of 5 peaks lies the Shivananda Nilayam of 1 Yojana width on the bank of the river Swarnamukhi. In the present day, Kalahasti taluka, there are about 400 villages along the river bank adjoining hills, parks, gardens, ashramas and many temples of Shiva each resounding with different names of Shiva.

On the edge of the riverfront lies the ashramas established by devatas such as  Brahma, Indra, Skanda, Madhava, Sudarshana chakra, Lakshmi, Saraswati. It was abounding with the ashramas of Agastya, Vasishtha, Bharadvaja, Vyasa, Shukra, Shakti, and Vishvamitra.

In the later years, in the age of the Rajas of Pandyas, Cholas (earlier this place was known as Mummidi Cholapuram), Sri Krishna Devaraya, this region flourished as prominent place for seekers of the divine knowledge.

Great poets including Natkeera, Mookamahakavi (the great Dumb poet), Dhurjati, Kumara Dhurjati, Narkhantirava Shastri rendered great compositions to Srikalahastishvara. Ministers such as Thimmarusu, Akkanna, Madanna of the Vijayanagara Kingdom ruled these lands.  

Thus, the surrounding regions abounding with Shivlingas installed in different ages can be seen to this day. Great unknown sculptures of art have withstood the ravages of time, and their exceptional beauty can be seen in the temple precints even today in excellent condition.

As the first Mantra expounds 'yatkinchit Jagat sarvam’ the cosmic all-pervading aspect of Parmatma (Antaryami) strikingly reverberating in the Shivananda nilayam in the popular Dakshinakailash region, which is now known as Srikalahastishvara, stands for the eternal, the indestructible truth about the existence of Paramatma.

Sri Jnanaprasannamba - Vijnana Yogam

While this region is described as a center for jnanayoga, it is also referred to as Vijnana yoga due to the presiding deity (in Srikalahasti) Jnanaprasunamba, the divine consort of Srikalahastishvara. Just as He is the embodiment of Pure Supreme knowledge (Omnipresent and Omnipotent), She is the embodiment of the Pure Consciousness signified by the flower in her hand.

In Bhagavad Gita Jnana or Knowledge is compared to " Khadga (sword)", " Agni (Fire)", "Yajna (sacrificial fire)", "Deepa (lamp)", " Surya (Sun)" and a boat.  Here Jnanaprasunamba holds the divine knowledge symbolized by Jnanaprasuna or the flower of knowledge. In order to attain the knowledge of the Paramatma one needs to pursue that thousand petaled flower symbolizing Vijnana or the collective knowledge.

According to puranas, She is consecrated on the "Jalandhara pitha" in Srikalahasthi. The legend goes that Parvati Devi did penance to cast off "rajoguna" and acquired the Pure Sattvajnana in this place and came to be known as Jnanaprasunamba.[5]


  1. Ishavasyopanishad
  2. Bhagavad Gita, Adhyaya 2.
  3. Bhagavad Gita, Adhyaya 7.
  4. Bhagavad Gita, Adhyaya 8.
  5. Pavani, S. and Pavani, V. (1982). Ishavasyopanishad - Satyavrata Bhaskara Kshetram (Srikalahasthi) Madras:Srikrishnachitra  Press.