The Universal Guru:
Dakṣiṇāmurty is regarded as an aspect of Siva, as the universal teacher. He is the young and radiant Adi-Guru, Para-Guru, the Supreme Guru, imparting knowledge that liberates. He is the very personification of spiritual wisdom and eminence; and one who is immersed in Self. His teaching is through the subtlest form of speech- para vak – beyond the range of the physical ear, abiding in silence; the sort of silence that envelops within itself all other forms of expressions. It is the silence that underlines the limitations of rational knowledge, futilities of the blind alleys of metaphysical queries and the frailty hollowness of words. His teaching transcends speech and thought; it is experience. His listeners are learned and wise; ripe in intuitional understanding. The Guru’s language of silence dispels the doubts, the confusion and uncertainties in the minds of those around sitting in silence.
The Banyan Tree:
The banyan tree (vata vruksha) under which the Guru sits symbolizes creation as also the expanding universe, which regenerates itself. The tree known as Akshya vruksha with its unique growth pattern also represents the eternal principle, the Dharma. (Vata derived from the Sanskrit root “vat” means: to expand, to surround and to encompass). It is meant to suggest that Sri Dakṣiṇāmurty who sits under the vata tree presides over the cyclic processes of srishti (creation), sthiti (preservation), samhara (absorption or gathering up), tirobhava (suppression) and anugraha (revealing true knowledge).
The iconographic descriptions of Sri Dakṣiṇāmurty are not uniform. In addition, there are several versions of his aspects and attributes. The following, in brief, is a summary position of Sri Dakṣiṇāmurty- iconography.
Sri Dakṣiṇāmurty is depicted as a young person with serene, tranquil and pleasing countenance; seated in a secluded spot in the Himalayas, under a banyan tree, upon a throne or a rock or an elevated platform covered with tiger-skin or deer-skin. Sri Dakṣiṇāmurty who is is always depicted singly.
He is usually depicted with four arms. In his upper right hand, he holds a rosary (aksha-maala) in kapittha-mudra, as if counting beads of japa-mala; or a snake (sarpa: symbol of tantric knowledge) or both. Sometimes, he is also shown holding a drum (damaru) with a snake coiling around it. The damaru, the srishti (creation) aspect of Shiva, represents the primeval sound and rhythm from which the universe emerges; and, into which it dissolves before re-emerging. The snake coiling around the damaru, symbolizes Kaala (time); it could either be the beginning or the end of time. In his upper-left-hand, he holds a flaming torch (Agni) symbolizing enlightenment or illumination, removing the darkness of ignorance. It also stands for his samhara (absorption or gathering back the created existence) aspect. His lower-left-hand resting on his left knee (the back of the hand touching the knee) gestures varada-mudra bestowing a boon (varadam vamahastam); and, it also holds a bunch of kusha grass or a palm-leaf manuscript symbolizing scriptural knowledge. The lower right-hand is depicted in a number of ways; and, the position of its palm, its fingers/gesture often defines the nature of a particular form of Sri Dakṣiṇāmurty. The lower-right-hand:
- either gestures grace (his anugraha aspect) or assurance (abhaya-mudra); or
- gestures jnana-mudra (thumb and middle/index finger meet each other and touch the heart (jnana mudram hrdi sthane); or
- it faces inwards (abhyantara mukham karma) as in the temple at Ilambyankottur (conveying that knowledge comes from within); or
- is held in chin-mudra (the index finger of his right hand is bent and touching the tip of his thumb – the other three fingers are stretched up) indicating identity of the Absolute and the individual; or
- is held in Vykhyana-mudra (similar to chin-mudra)- but, facing the viewer as if imparting a teaching, while seated in a relaxed position; and so on
Sri Dakṣiṇāmurty is most usually depicted in a seated posture; and at times in standing, as in his Veena-dhara variation (holding a veena). But he is not depicted in reclining (shayana) postures. While seated in Virasana, his right leg is stretched down (lambaka padam); and, is stamping upon (samharaka) the dwarf (apasmara–puruṣaḥ : representing ignorance and delusion). This suppression (nirodha) of ignorance is described as the tirobhava aspect of Sri Dakshinamurti. And, his left foot bent at the knee is resting on his right knee or thigh (sayanam padakam or kunchita-paada). His sitting posture is relaxed; his body position and carriage is free from bends and rigidity. His general aspect is calm and meditative.
The Hair and Decorations:
His luxuriant hair of matted locks (jatabhara, jatabhandha, jatamandala or jatamakuta), said to represent his sthithi (preservation) aspect, is adorned and enriched with jewelry, the crescent moon, a snake and bunches of wild flowers such as durdhura (dhatura). The mass of the jatas is either disheveled or held together by a snake or a band (patta-bandha); and, is arranged in conical shapes to resemble a crown. In the middle of jatabhara, resides a small smiling face of the Ganga. Curly hair locks fall onto his shoulders and upper arms. On his forehead, he bears a vertical urna (third eye). It is said dhurdhura (dhatura – belonging to Solanaceae family) and other forest-flowers as well as the cobra must be positioned over the right of his head ; the skull and moon over the left ; and , Ganga in the middle. Sri Dakṣiṇāmurty is modestly adorned with rudraksha-mala; garlands of wild flowers; flowers above his ears (karna avathamsam). The yagnopavita (sacred cord) runs across his chest, which is adorned with sandal-paste, garlands and necklaces. He is ornamented with kati-bandha jewelled waist band; naga-bandha armlets; anklets with little bells; bracelets; kirti-mukha earring in his right ear and conch- shell earrings (shankha-patra) or an open circular earring (karnavali or vrutta-abharana) in his left earlobe.
The Complexion and the dress code
The nature of Sri Dakṣiṇāmurty is sattva, pure, blissful, bright and serene (shantha). His complexion is radiant like a clear crystal (shuddha spatikopama); or the pure silvery white pearl (spatika-rajatha-varna mauktikeem); or soothingly bright as the jasmine flower or the moon (kundendu dhavala prabha). He is also described as glowing like gold (hema prabha) or dark (shyamabha) . Some Tantric texts describe his complexion as white as milk (kshira-gaura) or snow-white (Kailasadri-nibha), absorbed in self (bhava shuddha). His countenance is free from even the slightest traces of disturbance (klesha vargitam). A soothing and gentle smile lights up his expression. His steady gaze is fixed upon the tip of his nose (nasagra drshti yuk) or on the tip of his toes (padagre drhsti patam). His eyes must be slightly open (kimchid unmiltair netraih), as in contemplation (yoga dhyana-anusarinam). He is dressed in white upper garments (sittottariya) and yajnopavita (sita-upavita). His lower garment is of tiger skin (vyagra charmambara) or silk (divyambara) , held in place by a serpent.
The great teacher-god is surrounded by many animals, particularly the deer and the Nandi bull. The Rishis eager to absorb the Guru’s teaching are at his feet. Their numbers and names are mentioned differently in different texts. For instance; Karanagama mentions four Rishis: Agasthya, Pulasthya, Vishwamitra and Angoras. The Kamikagama mentions seven Rishis : Kaushika, Kashyapa, Bharadwaja, Atri, Gautama and two others. And, the Amsumad-bhedagama mentions seven Rishis as Narada, Vashista, Jamadagni, Bhrighu, Bharadwaja, Sanaka, and Agasthya. The texts also mention that the number of sages depicted could either be one , two or even three (esham ekam dvayam vapi trayam vaparsvayor nyaseth). The aged sages must all be shown with matted hair coiled up (jata bhara); dressed in white; and, wearing rudraksha maala . Their height is prescribed not to reach above the chest of Sri Dakshinamurthi.
Significance of the name:
Let us now dwell on the name. Why is he called Dakṣiṇāmurty? It is mentioned repeatedly that he is called Dakṣiṇāmurty because he is facing south and also because the deity is placed in the southern quarter of the temple. Some say that the name of the deity may have been derived because of this practice. However, there are few other explanations too.
- Yama, the Lord of Death, is in the southern direction. Usually this is considered inauspicious, for example, we are not advised to do Achamanam, japam or any mangala kaaryam facing south. Some people do not even sit facing south while eating. Since Yama, being the Lord of death is a dreaded one, Sri Dakṣiṇāmurty who liberates one from eternal death, saṃsāraḥ., is actually face-to-face with Death, challenging him. In other words, Jnana is the panacea for saṃsāraḥ., death. He who gains Jnana is never afraid of death. Death is kAla, and Shiva, Jnana, is kAla-kAla, or Shiva deals Death to that very Death. To signify this we have Sri Dakṣiṇāmurty facing south.
- The south-orientation of Sri Dakṣiṇāmurty appears to be based on the notion that he is seated in the Himalayas looking towards the land-mass where the aspirants reside; that is towards south.
- Another way of understanding it is; Suta –samhita describes the five faces or five aspects of Shiva which are turned towards four cardinal directions and the space above, as: on the West: Sadyojata (representing earth, and pervading ego); on the North: Vamadeva (water and manas); on the South: Aghora (fire and Buddhi); on the East: Tatpuruṣaḥ (air and maya); and above all: Isana (akasha and soul). The South face of Shiva is Aghora. Aghora the benevolent is predominantly of sattva nature with minimal of rajas and tamas. It is a state of pure being and energy. It is pure knowledge (para-vidya); and, Sri Dakṣiṇāmurty represents that knowledge. Sri Dakṣiṇāmurty who corresponds to Aghora the south aspect of Shiva is therefore represented facing south.
- The great seer Sri Ramana Maharishi who perhaps is closest to Sri Dakṣiṇāmurty in his ideals and in his teaching methods, explained the term as Dakshina + Amurthy, meaning a formless entity, one which is capable but is without form. Dakshina refers to He, who is competent to create, sustain, and dissolve this Universe; and, who, however, in reality, in his Absolute state, is A-murthy i.e. formless.
- He is called Dakṣiṇāmurty because of his boundless compassion (Dakshinya) towards all creation. Dakshina , it is said , also means favourable (anukula ) to the devotee. Dakshina is also interpreted as grace. Sri Dakṣiṇāmurty is regarded the very embodiment of grace. It is explained that ‘grace’ (anugraha) is an act of unbound compassion releasing the individual from the coils of saṃsāraḥ.. As Guru, he is the sublime ideal of spiritual wisdom adorned with grace towards all aspirants. And, only through his grace can one attain liberation.
- The term ‘daksha’ denotes one who is capable, skilful or an expert. Daksha also signifies the intelligent or competent. Dakṣiṇāmurty is the Daksha, the Master in music, arts and in all that is accomplished artistically; an exponent, an authority on scriptural learning; an adept in Tantra-vidya; a supreme Yogi; and, a teacher beyond compare who teaches the true knowledge that liberates.
Reference: Mr. Sreenivasa Rao’s Blogs – https://sreenivasaraos.com/