Reflecting on Shri Dakshinamurthy stotram


S. Ainavolu

3/6/2022 9 min read

Reflecting on Shri Dakshinamurthy stotram – The great promise of convergence

Dakshinamurthy is the original manifested form of lord Shiva. He is the one who is of sixteen years in appearance, surrounded by disciples who are old, and the beatitude can’t be missed from his posture. He is complete, it appears. There is no need for anything second- we feel when we look at the form. Often, when people look at different forms of worship, they have a long list of wishes; however, when one looks at Dakshinamurthy, the silence shall prevail internally in the seeker. Dakshinamurthy willing, we shall explore the tattvam and try to understand the essence here.

The introduction

My introduction to Dakshinamurthy in this life was in childhood, at about nine years old. We returned to the hometown after remote stints of father and his elder cousin was named Dakshinamurthy. He was special to father & to the family as he officiated as a “father figure” in his marriage (due to the death of my grandfather). He was addressed with full name with relation suffixed. Thus, I heard this name hundreds of times in over next two years or so. Many hundreds of times after his death too. The basic instinct to know about the deity named happened then, but it took years to formally introduce it. It took many more years to come closer to the essence. Till then, it is perfunctory recitation once in the morning. Here my view and stand are “truth gets revealed, and by the grace”. Preceding karma in the form of right directional effort, though, is needed. We may become eligible and when ready to receive, it gets offered can be the interpretation. This article on Dakshinamurthy stotram too is my karma in the above direction.

‘Dakshin’ is typically interpreted as the south direction. So a simple explanation of Dakshinamurthy is, one who is facing the south direction. South often is seen as an inauspicious direction. The performing of pitru karyas (ancestral death related ceremonies) are only done facing this direction. Hence, it may be taboo. In our literature, the directions often are given in many ways. Basic is four (EWNS, as we know East West North South), sometimes as eight (EWNS + four corners included) and a few times as ten (both top and below too are included to the above eight!). When it comes to the mukha/face of Shiva, people may wonder that since Shiva is worshipped in the “linga” form, it is unidirectional, round and directionless or omni-directional one may choose to say. However, a little less known fact is that there are five mukhas/faces of lord Shiva. Four of the mukhas view the four main directions and the fifth looks at the top. Each of the mukha/face has a specific name too. Tatpurusha, Sadyojata, Vamadeva and A-ghora are four directions-facing mukhas and Ishana is the top viewing one. Probably people are more familiar with Ishana, as it is also a corner (north-east to be specific) and the presiding lord is supposed to be Ishana. However, here we are more interested in the South direction facing mukha of Shiva, the A-ghora. The split in the name for indication purpose is intentional. A-ghora means one who is NOT ghora or fright causing. In other words, the south direction facing mukha of lord Shiva is A-ghora, which is supposed to inspire us with calmness and slight smile on our face. This mukha, the one who is facing south is our Dakshinamurthy, Dakshina meaning South direction, is one interpretation of the name. A deeper interpretation is that “Daksha” or “Dakshina” which indicates that one is having a set of competencies or is the capability embodiment. In other words, he is a capable master, one who can grant the ultimate. The granting of Jnana (enlightening wisdom) liberates one from the petty, and Dakshinamurthy is our knowledge/wisdom lord who gives us THAT. This explanation appealed to this seeker and probably touched and appealed to more.

The context

Dakshinamurthy is seated below the banyan tree. It communicates many things. It is called vata in Sanskrit. It is said that none specifically plants the banyan tree and when it comes up, it spreads fast in all directions, sends out multiple roots from the top to ground below. Thus, when one part even if damaged for some reason, the tree survives. It is so huge that reaching out to the banyan tree's center is difficult. In fact, it becomes difficult for any to spot the exact centre and reach out there. Associated with banyan tree means one is ancient, swayambhu (appeared on own, due to volition), and difficult to get to the centre (probably we can with his willingness!).

Dakshinamurthy stotram is atypical. Often, we come across many a stotram that extol the deity embedded in it or around whom the stotram is defined or built. Dakshinamurthy stotram is different. It defines the essence of advaita, and even boldly hints, THAT, the Guru and THIS are all the same. The stotram is bold one may say. It is composed by Adi Shankaracharya (Kaladi, Kerala born) who established four mathas in four corners of India. These four places host the original mathas even now and are Shringeri (South), Puri (East), Dwaraka (West) and Badri (North). Having composed many commentaries called bhashyas and other stotrams, Adi Shankaracharya composed this as the stotra-rajam as we may call it. The wise say that it covers the entire span of life and fulfils all that is needed, including the ultimate merger. In this sense it is comprehensive and uplifting.

Dhyanam captures the eco-system

The stotram is short and of ten shlokas. And it is direct. There are dhyana shlokas in the beginning and these clarify the “Murthy” for us. He is also called Dakshina+”Amurthy”. In other words, he is seen as the personified and also as the formless. So, murthy and amurthy being one is a little puzzling in the beginning, but if THAT guru and THIS can be one and seemless, there is no wonder that only one exists in both as form and as formless. It may need a little pondering but we are sure clarity emerges as we progress.

This stotram is one of the rare compilations where wonderment is used not about the accomplishments or boons given by the deity but about the form. It begins with “sharanamaham prapadye”- surrendering for understanding the real nature. We do the same here and for the same purpose. Then the word “Chitram” comes in one shloka beginning, an absolute wonderment, and exclamation. It expresses wonder that “Chitram vata taror mule vruddha shishya guror yuva”. Naturally astonishing sight for us who are used to older Guru and younger disciples. Here, the scene is reversed, with a sixteen-year Guru and four disciples as old sages. It further exclaims saying “Gurostu mouna vyakhyanam shishyastuchinna samshaya”, meaning the Guru is teaching in “mouna” (silence) and the doubts of the disciples got eliminated/evaporated by themselves!

More on preamble

The dhyanam also gives us the famous shloka associated with Guru, the “Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnu..”. It ends with “tasmai Shri Gurave namaha”. We also come across the quality of Shri Dakshinamurthy as “janana marana dukhachheda daksham namami”. Through this, we offer salutations to the one who can remove the sorrows attached with birth and death. One who is capable of removing these significant issues shall definitely remove the “issues in between” too! Dakshinamurthy is called “pranavarthaya”, meaning of the Pranava, the Om. He is called “shuddha jnanaika murtaye”, the embodiment of pure knowledge of ONE. He is called “Nidhaya sarva vidyanam”. We know that Saraswati and Hayagriva are two other forms we attribute to learning along with Shri Dakshinamurthy. So no wonder that he is called treasure of all vidya/learning. In fact, in Lalita Sahasra Nama stotram Mother is addressed as “Dakshinamurthy roopini”, the representational embodiment of Dakshinamurthy. This also clarifies the abedha (non-difference) of pitru-matru roopa (father-mother unified form). He is also called “bhishaje bhava roginam”, the doctor who can cure all the diseases of this world. He is described as the “Sat-chit-ananda roopaya”, as we know the three components of the perfect existence.

He is said to be and in fact is depicted as one sitting with chinmudra (joined thumb and pointer, with other three fingers extended out. He is described as “Nirmalaya Prashantaaya”, the one who is pure and serenity exhibiting. Quite an assuring and comforting Murthy we may agree. First quality of the Guru as per this seeker is approachability. The ultimate truth contained in Shri Dakshinamurthy Stotram is GOD, Guru and the Seeker, ARE ONE and the SAME. God gets into one’s existence through Guru, we have Sant Kabir averring. So, unless the Guru provides the comfort and approachability, the hesitant seeker may not dare cross the line and come closer. With Dakshinamurthy, we do not have such an issue. He is ever approachable, kind and removes the cobwebs even before we articulate them. The kindness and approachability are true even in this mundane world; mentors and thesis guides need to have the quality of tolerance and openness to “include” the “seekers working with them”. The ultimate union may happen in the end, but the beginning is the most important. If there is a notion of “flow”, then the height differential exists. If it is ONENESS then it is the common plane.

The stotram

As we appreciated already, Shri Dakshinamurthy stotram is the epitome of advaita approach. For uninitiated, Advaita (non-dualism) communicates that there is no second thing. The common thread running in all the entities and forms is the SAME. What we see outside is only like a dream we see in our sleep. Neither the dream is real nor the world we are “projecting”. Again, the concept is a little fuzzy one may say, but pondering over it, shall clarify the same.

Adi Shankara says, as the large tree can come out of the beeja (seed), the external manifested world is nothing but maya. Each of the shloka ends with the makuta (common, repeating fourth line) of “tasmai shri Gurumurthaye namaha idam shri Dakshinamurthaye”. This means, THAT, Shri Guru and THIS all of which are ONE and I salute the ONE who is Dakshinamurthy. The link is beautiful to trace and the bliss shall be there when one feels it.

Adi Shankara urges us to get rid of the maya. To know the truth is riddance from maya. The truth here is very simple- experience the oneness. No words can explain better than the experience. That oneness one temporarily experiences when one gets involved in some deeply engaging activity (and often without direct material benefits). Many of this set of readers may recall when they would have gotten immersed in some interesting book, they would have lost the count of time, and did not remember any other thing. Here, the doer, the act and the “done on” (karta, kriya and the karma) become ONE. Everything freezes, it appears. Once one comes out of that deeply engaging act, the physical world catches him/her for some reason. Bodily needs, ticked time, missed action lines, and more come to the fore then. A few minutes before these did not exist, and for all practical purposes.

The analogy of multiple holed pot is given in the stotram in which a camp is kept. The light spreads around and similarly the jnana which is inside gets expressed through multiple means. One may get warned of the power of maya. This is true the elderly and wise say. The pull (or vyaamoha) temporarily goes away when one faces adverse/challenging/painful situations. But it returns soon after the event. The burial ground and delivery vairagya are two oft-quoted instances.

When the ever sparkling, sharp intellect is within us then why the maya, the seeker may ask. Again, Acharya with his kindness gives us the parallel. As at the time of grahana (eclipse), Sun caught by the Rahu is blurred and weak, similarly, we, inspite of the mighty presence in us, fall victim to the maya. We have multiple stages of life and different stages of consciousness. The endeavour is to be “aware”, at all times and in all stages. Very demanding, one may say. But this has to be the “Aspire High” goal. The relations, we are embedded we feel. But all relations are limited to this mundane world and the clarity comes once we reflect.

The maya and its power when one remembers one can be careful. The purpose is not to scare people around or to teach “shushka Vedanta” (escapism!). Nothing matters and you are the truth, if one gets the gist, all the problems one may count are no longer the problems. “This too shall pass”, the wise quote to calm the agitated, and the ultimate quote is only ONE remains and you are that. Thus, nothing matters. But the maryada remains, the dvaita bhava in the physical world remains. In other words, the “code of conduct of this world” have to be adhered to. The karma has to be done, but with not getting carried away in the slurry of attachment. In fact, when the web of thoughts around the outcome vanishes, all our energies get focused on the “process of giving,” and the result shall be nothing less than “excellence”. Shankaracharya assured us of the benefit from the stotram in all conditions. We may understand the meaning, or we may not, we may ponder over the meanings, or simply recite mechanically. The benefit of the pure jnana shall come to us along with many intermediate states requiring “necessities.” It is a great assurance and one that is complete.

On a “beginning” note

May this serve as an introduction to the ones who had not crossed paths earlier. In this end, let us pray that may the beginning for them happen. It is said that the Adi Shankaracharya who gave this stotram reflected for a long period and gave us this dense, all advaita revealing stotram. We may not experience the advaita immediately reciting or listening to the stotram. Probably that becomes the greed and over-expectation. But we shall know about the maya, the tentacles, ever-slippery nature of the mundane world and projection of the world from within. Once in the groove, one may take just five minutes or so to recite the stotram in the morning. Even mechanical recitation, Adi Shankara’s promise tells us about the possible benefits. If realizing the stillness, oneness experience, beckoning and wavering mind putting one-off are the conditions, then the Dakshinamurthy Stotram shall provide the much-needed anchoring. The ultimate promise of THAT, the Guru and THIS getting realized as ONE is a great promise and the only promise for which we may “fall.” Actually, it is the RISE and ultimate rise. What else can close this better than the assuring makuta of “Tasmai Shri Gurumurtaye Namah Idam Shri Dakshinamurthaye”. Stay blessed.