18 October 2011

Significance of Vibhuti

Although Shiva is worshipped primarily in the form of Arunachala, at this premier Shiva Sthalam, He is also worshipped in other significant forms, such as: Lingodbhava,
inside the Lingam', Ardhanisvara ‘the androgynous deity’, Dakshinamurti, ‘the one facing south’ and Bhikshtana, ‘the enchanting mendicant’. However, in whatever form Lord Shiva is worshipped, Vibhuti (sacred ash) is an integral part of that worship.

Vibhuti is the residue from sacrificial fires where special woods (mostly sandal or shami) along with ghee and other herbs have been offered as worship. Vibhuti represents Lord Siva and denotes destruction of illusion by reminding one of the transience of all created things. Sacred ash indicates time and reminds the devotee to reach the Lord who is the destroyer of time

Sacred ash has several symbolic meanings: When eaten, Vibhuti imparts the blessings of the Divine. Placed on the forehead of devotees, it serves as a sectarian mark (tilaka). In worship connected with Lord Shiva it is a symbol of purity and a main prasad given at pujas in Saivite temples and shrines.

Vibhuti also serves as a reminder to the believer to cast away selfish and worldly desires that wrap the self in maya, and calls to mind the story of how Shiva burned Kama (the god of desire) to ashes when Kama attempted to break Shiva's focus on the Divine Truth

Shiva Kolam at Arunachaleswarar Temple

According to Hindu mythology Vibhuti is said to be highly favoured by Lord Shiva and that's why He is often called Vibhuti Bhushan (the one having ash as his ornament). Shiva devotees apply Vibhuti as tripundra (a form of three lines). When applied with a red spot in the centre, the mark symbolises Shiva-Shakti (the unity of energy and matter that creates the entire seen and unseen universe).

Sadhu wearing Vibhuti

Fire which is inherent in all objects becomes visible only in objects consumed by fire. It is Formlessness manifested amidst forms. In the Arunachala Mahatmyam, it is said the Lord gives his form to one who attains Him in the fire of meditation and merging in Him remains as infinite Wisdom.

Sri Shankaracharya of Kamakoti Peetam says of sacred ash, that:

“Vibhuti is held as most sacred and one should necessarily have it smeared over the whole of the body. In Sanskrit, Vibhuti also refers to the glorious attributes of the divine, and (in this context) is translated as 'all pervading', 'superhuman power', and 'wealth', and gives all types of wealth to the one who wears it.

The very colour of Vibhuti, which is white, signifies nothing less than the Supreme Self. As the Bhagavad Gita states: ‘Just as fire reduces firewood to ashes, jnana destroys all karma.’ Vibhuti symbolises the jnana (wisdom) which remains after all karma is burnt out. Anything put into a fire may turn black for a while but eventually it has to turn white. So whiteness is the ultimate state. God is the great Vibhuti and has the same quality as the Vibhuti we smear over the body. Hence the Vibhuti we smear over the body will take us to Him.

The wearing of Vibhuti emphasises the reality of the Self and the unreality of the world and its objects. The smearing of sacred ash reminds us of the great principle: that whether one is a prince or pauper, one will end up as a handful of ash.”


Anonymous said...

Thank you. Very nicely explained

Janice Weston (Norfolk, Virginia, USA) said...

Thank for the wealth of information on this site. So much fascinating material and so many wonderful photographs, feel like I am there with you.

Kesavan Govender said...

Kesavan Govender ( KZN South Africa )
Yes, a reminder that the material world is only an illusion or maya and that everything will eventually turn to ash over time.