What is Vibhuti / Bhasma
It is a common sight in India to see people wearing three horizontal stripes/bands of ash on the forehead, yogis, sadhaks of Lord Shiva are seen with ash smeared all over their forehead and sometimes all over the body. This is no mere ash, it is Vib huti (Vibhooti) or the ‘Holy Ash', the ash which is sacred and has spiritual significance. Followers of Shaivism believe that without applying pure Vibhuti on the forehead, no rituals of Lord Shiva should be commenced, including daily worship/puja of the Lord, even Bhasma aarti. This belief finds its basis in the deep connection of Lord Shiva with Vibhuti or Bhasma. Images of the supreme Lord Shiva depict Him wearing the Vibhuti all over His body or with the three horizontal stripes across His forehead and other parts of His body. The three horizontal stripes of ash is called Tripundra. Vibhuti is also commonly called Bhasma. Vibhuti /Bhasma "Bha" implies Bhartsana "to destroy" and "sma" implies smaranam "to remember", it means to let go of the unhappy/negative thoughts and to focus in the positive, the Divine. The Vibhuti/Bhasma has been spoken of highly by many learned and wise men because of the spiritual connotations and powers of Vibhuti/Bhasma. The word Vibhuti means 'glory' or greatness. It signifies that nothing lasts forever.
Perhaps to understand what Vibhuti is in simple words, we can say Vibhuti is the sacred ash of burnt dried wood of special plants and trees, for which ritualistic processes and mantras are chanted, as per the ancient Hindu texts called Agama. Vibhuti/Bhasma is the ash from consecrated fire (Homa) where wood is used to perform the ritual. Bhasma is also made from burning cow-dung, following various ritualistic processes mentioned in scriptures. Vibhuti/Bhasma symbolizes detachment, dissolving of ego and nothingness.
The Vibhuti or Bhasma has tremendous spiritual significance, it symbolizes detachment and to connect with Divine, the inner divinity too. It is about raising the curtain from Maya and facing the absolute truth. When Vibhuti/ Bhasma is applied it protects from lower energies and evil, enhances receptivity of higher energies, heals many diseases, is good for the skin and brings prosperity and abundance. The Agoris follow the ritual of smearing Bhasma or Vibhuti made from the ash of dead bodies to do their sadhana. The Bhasma has deep meaning for them.
However, Bhasma has other meanings too, as is in Ayurvedic science which is metallic/mineral preparation, treated with herbal juices or decoction and heated at certain temperature for the treatment of many diseases conditions and has no side effect. Rudra Centre does not sell the Ayurvedic Bhasma medicine products neither endorse them. In this article we are focussing on the Bhasma/Vibhuti for their spiritual benefits.
Legends / Stories Associated with Vibhuti
The sacred Vibhuti/Bhasma has some interesting stories. The only similarity is in these legends/stories associated with Vibhuti or Bhasma is that they revolve around Lord Shiva. Legend has it that Lord Shiva had narrated a story to Goddess Parvati, to explain why He wears a smear of Bhasma all over His body. The story of His narration is:
One of the renowned sages of Bhrigu's lineage, a Brahmin, was once in austere meditation. Such was the intensity and dedication of his meditation that the changing weather / seasons could not affect him. He was completely immersed in the meditation. When hungry, he requested animals like Deer, Lion, Bears etc. to fetch him fruit, which the animals willingly served him with. At a later stage, the Brahmin started surviving only by eating leaves which were called 'parna' and so he came to be known as Parnada. He continued with his Tapasya.Time passed, and one day, while cutting some grass Parnada accidentally cut his middle finger. But to his surprize, he saw that instead of blood oozing out, he actually had a liquid similar to tree/plant sap flowing out of the wound. Parnada assumed that because of his Tapasya and surviving on a diet of only leaves during his meditation period, his blood was replaced with tree sap. This made him jubilant, which turned to pride about his achievement and attainment of power. So drunk was he with pride that he became heady with it, shouting that he was the most pious man existing.Lord Shiva was observing Parnada's reactions and in the guise of an old man, the Lord arrived near Parnada and asked him about the reason of his ecstatic behaviour. Parnada answered by boasting about his Tapasya, attainment of power and piousness.The old man told Parnada that ego and pride nullifies all fruits of penance and added that Parnada had only sap of trees and plants running in his body whereas when a tree or plant is burnt, it becomes ash. Having said that, the old man cut his finger and ash poured out. Seeing this, Parnada realized that the old man was no mere mortal but a greater yogi. Lord Shiva then revealed His true self. Parnada bowed down to the Lord and asked for forgiveness for his pride.It is said that Lord Shiva has been wearing the ash since that day as a reminder for His devotees to let go of ego.
Why does Shiva apply Vibhuti over his body?
Among the other legends/stories associated with Vibhuti/ Bhasma, is from Shiva Purana which tells the story of Lord Shiva's consort, an incarnation of Adishakti, who immolated Herself in fire. Lord Shiva upon hearing this was overwhelmed by emotions. With Sati's dead body, in rage, the Lord travelled all the 3 Lokas, Heaven, Earth and the underworld. Lord Vishnu seeing Lord Shiva in this state of Tandava and torment touched the body of Sati which immediately turned to ash. Lord Shiva, on losing the body of His consort, in a state of grief, loss, in frenzy, wanting to make Sati a part of Himself smeared the ash on His body and since that time Lord Shiva is said to wear the ash on His body.
These stories associated with Lord Shiva keeping His body smeared with ash are some of the reasons which answer the question. It is believed that Lord Shiva smears the Vibuti (Bhasma) from the crematorium (Samshan), the ashes from the mortal body. The ancient texts say that Lord Shiva had declared the Vibhuti (Bhasma) to be the ultimate truth, as, it symbolizes the mortal nature of human beings, other creatures and anything that has life and beyond that. The Lord wants His devotees to be reminded constantly and be in awareness of this fact. Among the other legends/stories associated with Vibhuti/ Bhasma, is from Shiva Purana which tells the story of Lord Shiva's consort c, an incarnation of Adishakti, who immolated Herself in fire. Lord Shiva upon hearing this was overwhelmed by emotions. With Sati's dead body, in rage, the Lord travelled all the 3 Lokas, Heaven, Earth and the underworld. Lord Vishnu seeing Lord Shiva in this state of Tandava and torment touched the body of Sati which immediately turned to ash. Lord Shiva, on losing the body of His consort, in a state of grief, loss, in frenzy, wanting to make Sati a part of Himself smeared the ash on His body and since that time Lord Shiva is said to wear the ash on His body.
How to Apply Vibhuti
There are different ways which are followed to apply Vibhuti (Bhasma). The most common is the Tripundra which are three horizontal bands/stripes/lines on the forehead, which reach till the end of the brows. Tripundra is a Saivite tilaka which origins from the South of India. The first line stands for removal of ahankar (pride) the next stands for removal of ignorance and the third stands for removal of bad karma (actions).
- Mix a bit of water with Vibhuti (Bhasma) by placing it in the left palm and covering it with the right while chanting Vedic mantras (thirunrruppadhikam or Sadyojat etc.)
- With the right hand index, middle and ring fingers apply Vibhuti (Bhasma) as horizontal bands across the forehead chanting mantras (aghora panchAxaram, Tryayusha mantra etc). Om Namah Shivaya is a powerful mantra which can be chanted while applying the Vibhuti/Bhasma. The devotion and feelings of the devotee is most important in the ritual of wearing the Vibhuti/Bhasma.
A variation of usage of the fingers for applying the Tripundra is to apply with the middle and ring finger and with the thumb apply in the opposite direction than done with the other two fingers.
There is another concept of wearing the Vibhuti/Bhasma in which it specifies that the devotee should first sprinkle dry Vibhuti/Bhasma on the forehead and other important points before applying the wet Vibhuti.
Vibhuti (Bhasma) can be worn either in 32 or 16 or 8 places or 5 places on the body. The important points to apply are the pit of the throat / Vishuddhi chakra, ears, shoulders, chest or the joint of the rib cages, arms, naval.
Care should be taken to ensure that the hands are clean before applying the Vibhuti/Bhasma and that it does not fall on the ground as it is the prasad of the Divine supreme Lord.
How to Make Bhasma for Shiv Puja
Bhasma or Vibhuti for Shiv Puja is made by burning cow dung and the other is by burning dried wood in Homa.
1) Bhasma/Vibhuti from cow dung- Generally made from cow dung of native Indian breeds of cows in the goshalas or cattle sheds for cows. As cows are revered a s sacred animals by Hindus, the cow dung too is sacred. It is said Goddess Laxmi resides in the cow. The cow dung is collected and made into flat cow dung cakes or balls then it is dried on top of stones/rocks to ensure no sand or dust particles settle on it. Some even follow the rule of collecting the dung on specific days like the Amavasya etc. Once the cow dung dries then it's then heaped up with layers of hay and husk in between. It is then lit with fire to bake. It takes time to burn completely. Special Vedic mantras are chanted including Sri Rudram, Chamakam and so on, at each stage of this process, starting from collecting the cow dung to lighting the fire. Once the heap turns to ashes and cools down, the ash is sieved and the fine powder is then collected and used as Bhasma/Vibhuti for Shiv puja.
There are goshalas which make the Bhasma/Vibhuti every month on Shivratri day and have special occasion of Vibhuti making on Maha Shivratri, where the heap of cow dung is so huge that it takes almost a week for the heap to be baked.
2) Bhasma/Vibhuti made from consecrated dried wood and cow dung - Shivpuran says wood of the Bilwa, Palash, Peepal, Baniyan tree, Shamee tree along with cow dung are burnt along with chanting of Aghor mantra. The white colour ash which is left after the burning of these ingredients is carefully sieved and then is used as Bhasma for Shiv puja.
Where is Vibhuti Used?
There is a rule of not allowing women to enter the Garbgraha (the Sanatorium Sanctum). It's a rule which has been set because of the energies which are created during the Bhasma aarti. It is said that the atmosphere at that time is loaded with Tantrik energies which are not suitable for a woman to experience as they cannot contain the intensity of the energies. Also previously the ash used for the Bhasma aarti was got from the funeral pyre, which is from dead bodies, women were forbidden. Women are creators and give birth to life. During the Bhasma aarti, the ash also sprinkles on people standing around the Shivling, which is not suitable for the women, who are creators of life. Women are not supposed to participate in the rituals which involve the dead, and are not allowed to visit the crematorium.