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Dakshinamurthy - Shiva as Guru


He sits in silence, his young face, radiant as a spatika, is further illuminated by the crescent moon on his head and his beatific smile. Eyes half closed in quiet contemplation half aware of the old men in front looking in earnest anticipation. His left hand clasps the scriptures, the Vedas from which all knowledge spells forth. His right hand displays the cin mudra. His left leg rests on his right in a virasana posture, which in turn is placed on Apasmara, a dwarf crouching down, embodying his victory over ignorance. His tresses, rolled into a jatamakuta, has its remnants flowing carelessly down mirroring the roots of the vata vriksha or banyan tree their owner is under. Behold the young teacher, behold Shiva as he conveys the eternal knowledge to his esteemed disciples.

“तस्मै श्रीगुरुमूर्तये नम इदं श्रीदक्षिणामूर्तये”
To that form of Dakshinamurthy, embodied as a Guru,  I offer my salutations!

Each stanza of Adi Shankaracharya’s Dakshinamurthy Stotram ends with this statement. This image of Jnana-Dakshinamurthy was first introduced to me by my paternal grandfather. He taught me to chant the Dakshinamurthy Stotram and reminded me every Thursday if I offered my salutations to the Guru. When I moved to the United States, I brought with me a laminated photo of Shiva as Dakshinamurthy, less of my commitment to Shiva and more to honor the memory of my dear thatha who passed away prior to my move.


It would be a couple of decades before I understood and appreciated the iconography of the image.


While different agamas quote the recipients differently, the mature rishis in front of Dakshinamurthy are typically Brahma's sons, Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatsujata and Sanatkumara who are so advanced in their sadhana that a teaching in silence is enough to uplift them. Shiva displays the cin mudra in his right hand where his index finger resting on the top of the thumb forming a circle while the remaining three fingers stay away and erect. Since, the index finger is used in general parlance to identify a human being or an entity, it symbolically represents the Jeevatman. The thumb, different from the other four fingers, represents the Paramatman. The remaining three fingers stand for ahamkara(ego), karma and maya(delusion). When the index finger (or Jeevatman) stays close or associates itself with these three attributes, the Jeevatman will continue to be born and reborn. The only way for it to break this cycle is to seek refuge via knowledge or Brahma Gnanam towards the Paramatma or the supreme consciousness. When it merges with this consciousness, the Jeevatman achieves completeness or purnatvam (represented by the circle). Directionally, the north represents Moksha (transcendence from karmas) and south, Mrityu (death) therefore Shiva is seen seated at the north as Mrityinjaya facing the southern (Dakshina) direction as if challenging Yama or the god of Death, giving him his name.

सदाशिव समारम्भाम् शंकराचार्य मध्यमाम्

अस्मद् आचार्य पर्यन्ताम् वंदे गुरु परम्पराम्

Salutations to the guru parampara lineage, starting with Sadasiva, continuing with Adi Shankaracharya in the middle up until my teacher


In Advaita Vedanta, it is this form of Dakshinamurthy that we attribute as the preceptor of the Guru Parampara.


T.A Gopinatha Rao’s “Elements of Hindu Iconography'' details other variations of Dakshinamurthy such as Yoga Dakshinamurthy and Vyakyana-murti. You will find the cin-mudra in idols where the devata in question such as Subramanya (when he impacts the secret of the Pranava mantra to Shiva), Krishna (on the battlefield of Kurukshetra with Arjuna), or Buddha (to his disciples) are imparting spiritual knowledge to their worthy recipients. This is the power of iconography where a simple representation in art makes a persuasive appeal to uplift yourself through jnana marga and live more purposefully with every birth. 


You will often find icons for Guru Dakshinamurthy in a niche of the south wall of the central shrine should you wish to pay respects.

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