Holy Ash (Thiruneer or Vibuthi)
The holy Ash is the substance the devotees wear on their bodies with adoration and respect. This along with the rudrAxa beads (1) shows up the devotees of the Simple but Supreme Lord shiva. The holy Ash has lots of spiritual sense. There are lots of hymns telling the glory of the holy Ash. ((2) - for example). Ash - the substance that is arrived when things are completely burnt off. In natural terms it is a final state. The state where it has nothing left to burn off ! This indicates the transience of the beings and the Permanence of the Supreme that smears in this ash. This also indicates the matured state of bliss the devotees would be heading towards which stands beyond perturbance - transformation (nothing to burn off).
The purANic events associated with the holy Ash show its significance. When the three daemons of impurities (tripura) were burnt down by the mere smile of the God, the ash that remained got settled on the Lord, Who danced there. Thus the tripurAri was smeared in the Ash that came out of burning out of the three impurities. When the cupid - the deva of lust, tried to fire his arrows on the yogic Lord, he was burnt by the Lord into a heap of ash. The unruffled Lord appeared decorated with that ash. At the times when everything reduces unto It, the Everexistant Lord wears that ash.
The devotees of the Lord, Who gives His form to the ardent worshipper, wear the same way the holy Ash on their body. This holy Ash is prepared in the ritual fire in a specified way (3) along with the chanting of the Holy Five Letters (4) and other vedic hymns. Thus obtained Holy Ash is worn on various specified places of the body including the forehead chanting the Holy Five Letters. (There are two broad categories of wearing the Holy Ash. One is uddUlanam that is sprinkling the Holy Ash on the body and the other is tripuNDram that is in three distinct bands)
Some of the upanishads that hail the glory of holy ash.
- jApAla (bR^ihajjApAla)
- nArada parivrAja
Holy Ash - Some Information
Lord kAlAgni rudra teaches bhusu.ndi - earth came out of the sadyojAta face of the Lord. From this came the gray colored cow called nanda from the dung of which came vibhUti. From the vAmadeva face came the water, from that came the black colored cow bhadra giving bhasita. From the aghora face came the fire, from that the copper colored cow surabhi giving bhasma. From the tatpuruSha face came the gas/air, from which came shAnti and from that came the white colored cow sushIle giving xAra. From the IshAna face came the space, from which came the multi colored cow sumanA giving raksha.
The Holy Ash which is called by five names, when pronunced raises the spiritual power of the individual and hence is called vibhUti. Since it burns the sins to ashes it is called bhasita. Since it gives the wisdom to all it is called bhasmam. Since it neutralises the bad things it is called xAra. Since it protects the people from evil forces, it is called raxa.
Irrespective of caste, creed, sex and all other differences all the people shall wear the Holy Ash. It is an old adage the says the forehead without the ash is a ruined one. The Holy Ash having the powers of agni and soma refreshes the one who wears it. For the seekers of yoga this Holy Ash kindles the spirit and provides early fruit. When wearing the Holy Ash the mantra shivAya namaH(The Holy Five Letters(1)) is chanted or the sadyojAtAdi paJNcha brahma mantra(2) or the tryambakaM or mAno mahAntam from rudra sUktam(3).
The Holy Ash purifies the one who wears it. This purification (bath) is called Agneya snAna. In this the renouced ones would smear the ash in the remains of ritual fire from the leg to the head. Others would smear in the ash from the head to the leg.
ska.ndha purANam says that the Holy Ash would have to be worn at the following fifteen places in the body.
- Both sides of the belly
- Two arms
- Two Ankles
- Two wrists
- Two sides of the back
- Behind the neck
Periya puranam describes how to prepare holy ash
Muzhuniru poosiya munivar
The munis completly smeared in Holy Ash. The Lord who burnt the three forts by His graceful smile, who burnt the dhEvA of desire with a wink of His eye, who dances enjoying in the Self when the creations are reduced to ash before the regeneration that Lords holy blessing substance is the Holy Ash. The three adorable rated Holy Ash being kaRpam, an^ukaRpam, upakaRpam and unacceptable being akaRpam, one should accept the first three those purifies one from the flaws like desire.
When the cows that give the holy five substances for the Lord to get anointed are about to send out accepting that with the gomaya mantra , in the sacred fire grown for Lord shiva with the shiva mantra praised by the celestial bodies putting thus accepted cow dung saluting the Holy Feet of the Three-eyed Lord, the Holy Ash that results is the chaste kaRpam.
Bringing the dung that is dried in the forests, powdering it, wetting with the water of the cows, with the aththira man^dhiram casting it and then putting in the ritual fire and taking the properly burnt Holy Ash is the an^ukaRpam.
Other than ash from the forest fire, fire in the cow yard and a few such ashes, making balls out of the dung with the water of the cow chanting the holy mantras and then burning in the ritual fire and the Holy Ash thus obtained is called upakaRpam.
Thus taking the Sacred Ash humbly chanting the shiva mantra the slaves of the Lord adorn themselves. The Holy Ash the fame and fruit of which very big to explain and that makes good for the devotees who wear with respect kindles the spiritual progress. The munis wear this holy substance praising the God. Let the Holy Ash and its glory as found by the muzhu niru poosiya munivar stay in the mind.
This chapter in periya purANam describes in detail how to prepare the Holy Ash and how to wear it.
The application of Holy Ash
The Holy Ash, that decorates the bodies of Lord shiva and shaivites, is very sacred and there are prescriptions on how it needs to be adored and adorned. Here are few of those. The two ways of getting adorned with holy ash are tripuNDram, uddUlanam. The first is applying the holy ash in the form of three distinct bands and the second is sprinkling it on the part of the body.
One simple way would be to chant thirun^IRRuppadhikam (1) while taking the Holy ash and while getting adorned with that chant the aghora pa~nchAxaram (The aghora Holy Five Letters) which is shivAya namaH.
With clean hands take the Holy Ash chanting the sadyojAdAdi mantras and the mA no mahantam mantra from shrI rudram.
Those who perform rituals, perform shiva pUja should first take the holy ash without adding water and sprinkle on their head, forehead, chest and two shoulders. Later using the right hand index, middle and the ring finger take the holy ash, keep in the left hand, close it with right hand and chant these mantras
om nivR^iti kalAyai namaH
om pratiShTA kalAyai namaH
om vidyA kalAyai namaH
om shAnti kalAyai namaH
om shAntyatIta kalAyai namaH
om IshAnAya namaH
om tatpuruShAya namaH
om aghorAya namaH
om vAmadevAya namaH
om sadyojAdAya namaH
om hRidayAya namaH
om shirashe namaH
om shikAyai namaH
om kavachAya namaH
om netrAya namaH
om astrAya namaH
Then saying hRidayAya namaH, add water and saying kavachAya vauShaT, mix it. Chant the first four of the above said pa~nchabrahma mantram and apply (with the three fingers of the right hand mentioned above - index, middle and ring fingers) the holy ash paste on the first four places of the body. (See below for the list of places where to apply holy ash). Chant the fifth mantram when applying at the other parts of the body. While applying face up, so that the holy ash does not spill down on the ground. If by mistake the holy ash spills on the ground, clean that area with water.
The places to apply the holy ash on the body
vibhUti can be worn either in 32 places or 16 places or 8 places or five places.
Two sides of groin
Total 32 Places
Total 16 places
Total 8 places
Total 5 places
One of the ways of taking bath as prescribed by vedas is known as Agneyam. It is defined as Agneyam bhasmasnAnam. That is Agneyam bath is nothing but bathing in the holy ash.
The holy ash has very good medicinal value. This could prevent/cure 81 diseases that are out of air (vAta), and 64 of diseases caused by bile(pittam), and 215 of phlegm (kapham).
The Holy Ash is the most ancient symbol. It is hailed in the vedas along with rudrAxam(2). Even the devotees of Lord viShNu used to wear this originally (kariyamEni michai veLiya n^IRu chiRidhEyidum periya kOlath thadaN^kaNNan, n^IRu chevvE idakkANil n^edumAladiyAr enROdum - divya prabhan^dham). The following scriptures talk about the glory of the Holy Ash.
The scriptures that hail Holy Ash
- bharadvAja - sAtAtapa - parAchara
- shivarahasya parama itihAsam
man^dhira mAvadhu n^IRu vAnavar mEladhu n^IRu
chun^dhara mAvadhu n^IRu thudhikkap paDuvadhu n^IRu
than^dhira mAvadhu n^IRu chamayaththi luLLadhu n^IRu
chen^thuvar vAyumai paN^gan thiruAla vAyAn thirun^IRE
vEdhaththi luLLadhu n^IRu ven^thuyar thIrppadhu n^IRu
pOdhan^ tharuvadhu n^IRu punmai thavirppadhu n^IRu
Odhath thaguvadhu n^IRu uNmaiyi luLLadhu n^IRu
chIdhap punalvayal chUzn^dha thiruAla vAyAn thirun^IRE
muththi tharuvadhu n^IRu muniva raNivadhu n^IRu
chaththi yamAvadhu$(1)$ n^IRu thakkOr pukazvadhu n^IRu
paththi tharuvadhu n^IRu parava iniyadhu n^IRu
chidhdhi tharuvadhu n^IRu thiruAla vAyAn thirun^IRE
kANa iniyadhu n^IRu kavinaith tharuvadhu n^IRu
pENi aNipavark kellAm perumai koDuppadhu n^IRu
mANan^ thagaivadhu n^IRu madhiyaith tharuvadhu n^IRu
chENan^ tharuvadhu n^IRu thiruAla vAyAn thirun^IRE
pUcha iniyadhu n^IRu puNNiya mAvadhu n^IRu
pEcha iniyadhu n^IRu perun^thavath thOrkaLuk kellAm
Achai keDuppadhu n^IRu van^dhama dhAvadhu n^IRu
thEcham pukazvadhu n^IRu thiruAla vAyAn thirun^IRE
aruththama dhAvadhu n^IRu avalam aRuppadhu n^IRu
varuththan^ thaNippadhu n^IRu vAnam aLippadhu n^IRu
poruththama dhAvadhu n^IRu puNNIyar pUchumveN NIRu
thiruththagu mALikai chUzn^dha thiruAla vAyAn thirun^IRE
eyiladhu vaTTadhu n^IRu virumaikkum uLLadhu n^IRu
payilap paDuvadhu n^IRu pAkkiya mAvadhu n^IRu
thuyilaith thaDuppadhu n^IRu chuththama dhAvadhu n^IRu
ayilaip polidharu chUlath thAlavA yAnthiru n^IRE
irAvaNan mEladhu n^IRu eNNath thaguvadhu n^IRu
parAvaNa mAvadhu n^IRu pAvam aRuppadhu n^IRu
tharAvaNa mAvadhu n^IRu thaththuva mAvadhu n^IRu
arAvaNaN^ kun^thiru mEni AlavA yAnthiru n^IRE
mAlo DayanaRi yAdha vaNNamu muLLadhu n^IRu
mEluRai dhEvarkaL thaN^gaL meyyadhu veNpoDi n^IRu
Ela uDambiDar thIrkkum inban^ tharuvadhu n^IRu
Alama dhuNDa$(2)$ miDaRRem mAlavA yAnthiru n^IRE
kuNDikaik kaiyar kaLODu chAkkiyar kUTTamuN^ kUDak$(3)$
kaNTikaip pippadhu n^IRu karudha iniyadhu n^IRu
eNthichaip paTTa poruLAr Eththun^ thakaiyadhu n^IRu
aNDaththa varpaNin^ dhEththum AlavA yAnthiru n^IRE
ARRal aDalviDai yERum AlavA yAnthiru n^IRRaip
pORRip pukali n^ilAvum pUchuran nyAnacham pan^dhan
thERRith thennanuDa luRRa thIppiNi yAyina thIrach
chARRiya pADalkaL paththum vallavar n^allavar thAmE