Vibhuti is made in a homam, before Deities and in temple compounds, where sacred items such dried cowdung flakes, twigs, ghee etc are offered in agni. These pure sattvic substances are described in the ancient scriptures. But it the chanting that adds sacredness to the burnt ash and it is called Vibhuti or Bhasmam. In Shaivite temples, it is the standard prasadam to represent purity of the mind. Often bhaktas wear it as Tripundra or the three lines of vibhuti. Vibhuti offers the user spiritual and physical protection, drives away negative energy. It also contains self-help spiritual healing remedy.
Vibhuti means ‘glory’ and it is a reminder that it is ash that remains when the yagna disappears. ‘Sudar-mudi mannarum oru pidi saambalavar’ is a cliché meaning ‘the king adorned by a magnificient crown is reduced to an handful of ashes’. Wearing vibhuti first thing in the morning or after temple prayers reminds us of our imminent mortality; that this mortal coil, bedevilled with maya of arta and kama, is a temporary housing. It is the Atma, the divine consciousness that is indestructible. The yagna burning is also symbolical of burning of desires; the sacrifice that man has to make to be oneness with the Supreme. Bhasmam is an acronym of two words: ‘bhartsana’ meaning annihilation and ‘smaranam’ meaning remembrance. So, this erstwhile turbanacle and its senses can be spiritual and charitable without the ‘I’ feeling. Indeed, in Hindu thoughts, Shiva’s Mahapralaya means the entire universe ending up in ashes.
PERIYAPURAANAM: This is given by Muzhu Neeru Puchiya Munivar’ in the Periayapuraanam. KARPAM is the sacred fire grown for Lord Siva, with Siva mantra praised by celestial bodies putting thus accepted cow-dung saluting the Holy feet of the Three Eyed Lord, the Holy Vibhuti that results is karpam. ANUKARPAM is bringing dung dried in the forest, powdering it, wetting with water of the cows, with the Athithira mantram, casting it and putting ritual fire and taking the properly burnt Vibhuti. UPAKARPAM is other than ash from the forest fire, making balls out of the dung with the water of the holy cow, go jala, chanting holy mantras and burning in the ritual fire and holy Vibhuti thus obtained. AKARPAM is other than karpam, anukarpam and upakarpam, the unacceptable. The Periapuraanam states that ‘thus taking the Sacred Ash humbly chanting the Siva mantra, the slaves of the Lord adorn themselves. The Holy ash, the fame and fruit, which is extensive to explain, makes good for the devotees who wear with respect for spiritual progress. The munis wear this holy substance praising God.Let the Holy ash and its glory as found by the Muzhu Neeru Puchiya Munivar, be remembered.’
PRASADAM: The Hindu concept of prasadam is a phenomenon of material to spiritual transformation. Hindus are involved in this daily at home or in temples. What they offer God is naivedyam and what the Lord offers back after ‘tasting’ and sanctifying it is prasadam. But where is the Lord? He is not far away; He is also very close, ‘tad dure tadv antike’ – Isopanishad Mantra 5. Thus prasadam also means the Lord’s mercy and grace. Metaphysical understanding and material abundance are of no avail to gain access to the Lord. It is pure devotion to which the Lord submits Himself. The Lord accepts all tokens of love and each does this according to one’s means. In Gita 9.26, Sri Krishna states:
patram pushpam phalam toyam
yo me bhaktya prayacchati
tad aham bhakty-upahritam
Meaning: ‘Whoever offers Me with devotion, a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water, I accept that, the pious offering of the pure in heart.
ISVARA PRASADAM: The Upanishads say that the famous Mrutyunjaya mantra should be chanted whilst applying ash on the forehead. Sri Swami Parmarthananda-ji has explained this so beautifully in terms of surrender-saranagathi. “The Panchakshari mantra, occuring in Sri Rudram, is also known as sharana-gati mantra. Sharana-gati means surrender. We surrender to the Lord. This means we surrender to the order of the law of the Lord - the universal law of dharma and the universal law of karma. Every time we chant namasivaya, we surrender to the law of karma meaning whatever happens in our lives will take place according to the law of karma alone. So we must never refuse or resist to accept karma phalam or the fruit or result of our actions. Whatever happens in our lives is Siva prasadam or Iswara prasadam. Vibudhi is not to be looked upon as useless ash and pongal is not to be looked at with relish. We must accept both with the same attitude - that it is Iswara prasadam. There must be no dwesha (hatred, aversion) towards vibudhi and no raga (liking, attachment) towards pongal. We welcome everything we encounter in life. Welcoming experiences in one thing. Accommodating experiences is another thing, particularly with respect to family. We must accept our family members—husband, wife, children, etc as they are. If our child is slow or dull or retarded, we accept it as Iswara prasadam. The acceptance of everything as karma phalam is saranagati. The result is shanti or peace”.
AGNEYAM is taking bath in Vibhuti. It is defined in the Vedas as Agneyam bhasmasnanam. Vibhuti can be worn in Five, Eight, Sixteen or Thirty two places. There are two broad categories of wearing Holy Ash. The first is Uddulanam which means the sprinkling of Vibhuti on the body. The second is Tripundram that is in the three distinct bands. In aghori practice agneyam is also ego dropping in which one is clad in vibhuti for certain number of hours and ritualistic bath is taken or worn in his or her digambra state.
TRIPUNDRA: Lord Shiva is affectionally called Vibhuti Bhushan. Indeed he is synonymous with Vibhuti. Shiva smears his body with bhasma. Some forms of Shiva, such as Bhairava, are associated with a very old Indian tradition of cremation-ground or shamshan sceticism. ‘Tri’ means three and ‘pundra’ implies ‘release.’ Vibhuti is three lines of ashes drawn on the forehead that represents the essence of our Being, which remains after all the malas -impurities of ignorance, ego and action and vasanas -likes and dislikes, attachments to one's body, world, worldly fame, worldly enjoyments, etc. have been burnt in the fire of knowledge. Hence vibhuti is revered as the very form of Shiva and signifies the Immortality of the soul and manifested glory of the Lord. The red kumkum bindi together with tripundra symbolizes the yoga of spiritual energy of Shiva and the material energy of Shakti.
Saint Thirugnasambandar did many wonders with Vibhuthi and he expounds the greatness of Vibhuti in one of his Pathigams called "Thiruneetru Pathigam" as follows:
Mandhira maavadhu neeru, Vaanavar meeladhu neeru
Sundhara maavadhu neeru,Thudhikkap paduvadhu neeru
Thandhira maavadhu neeru, Chamayaththil ullaadhu neeru
Senthuvar vaayumai pangan,Thiruaalavaayaan Thiruneerae
Meaning: Mantra is the ash; Higher than heavenly people is the ash; Beauty is the ash; Praised is the ash; Technique is the ash; In the religion is the ash; Lord Sundareshwarar of Thiruaalavaay in Madurai, who shares the body with the red lipped Parvathi - His Holy Ash.
SCRIPTURES: Vibhuti Yoga in the Gita: In Chapter 10 of the Bhagavad Gita, titled Vibhuti Yoga, Lord Krishna uses the term 'vibhuti' to describe divine attributes such as magnificence, splendour, glory and prosperity.
(1) "Some skilled in Vedasiras call the besmearing the whole body with sacred ashes Pasupata; others call it Sirovrata; others, Atyasrama; others, Vrata and Sambhava": Jnanayoga Khanda of Sutasamhita, 14th Adhyaya.
(2) Besmearing the body with the sacred ashes and repeating six mantras is called Pasupata in Atharvasiras; in Mundaka (3. 2. 10) Sirovrata; in Svetasvatara 6. 2.1 and Kaivalya. Atyasrama; in Kalagnirudra, Vrata and Sambhava.
(3) Sivarahysa says "Those belong to Taittriya think, O Uma, that sacred ashes should not be neglected."
(4) The word Bhuti (sacred ashes) is found in Taittriya 1, 11, 1.
(5) Again the Sutasamhita says "Besmearing the whole body with sacred ashes and wearing on the forehead and other limbs with three streaks of ashes form appendages to knowledge (Para Vidya): Yajnavaibhava Khanda, 30th Adhyaya.
(6) "Besmear the body with ashes repeating" Agni is the ashes, Jalam is the ashes" (i.e. adding the word Bhasma at the end of the words Anilam, Vayu, Amrita as in the order mentioned in Atharvasira) - Brihadaranya7.15.1; Isavasya Upanishad 17th mantra
(7) Pasupata Vrata Adhikarana - As besmearing the body with sacred ashes forms an appendage to the study of Upanishads and Brahma Sutras.
(8) Other references: Saiva Bhasya, III. 4. 48, 49; Kailasa Samhita; Linga-purana, Vayu-Samhita, Maha-Bharata.
Hara Hara Mahadeva
(draft The Hindu Person: Gods, Goddesses, Minor Deities and Sages)
by Yogi Ananda Saraswathi