Rudras are forms and followers of the god Rudra-Shiva and make eleven of the Thirty-three gods in the Hindu pantheon. They are at times identified with the Maruts - sons of Rudra; while at other times, considered distinct from them.
Birth and names
The Ramayana tells they are eleven of the 33 children of the sage Kashyapa and his wife Aditi, along with the 12 Adityas, 8 Vasus and 2 Ashvins, constituting the Thirty-three gods. The Vamana Purana describes the Rudras as the sons of Kashyapa and Aditi. The Matsya Purana notes that Surabhi - the mother of all cows and the "cow of plenty" - was the consort of Brahma and their union produced the eleven Rudras. Here they are named Nirriti, Shambhu, Aparajita Mrigavyadha, Kapardi, Dahana, Khara, Ahirabradhya, Kapali, Pingala and Senani - the foremost. The Harivamsa, an appendix of the Mahabharata, makes Kashyapa and Surabhi - here, portrayed as his wife - the parents of the Rudras. In another instance in the Mahabharata, it is Dharma (possibly identified with Yama) who is the father of the Rudras and the Maruts.
The Vishnu Purana narrates that Rudra - here identified with Shiva - was born from the anger of the creator-god Brahma. The furious Rudra was in Ardhanari form, half his body was male and other half female. He divided himself into two: the male and female. The male form then split itself into eleven, forming the eleven Rudras. Some of them were white and gentle; while others were dark and fierce. They are called Manyu, Manu, Mahmasa, Mahan, Siva, Rtudhvaja, Ugraretas, Bhava, Kama, Vamadeva and Dhrtavrata. From the woman were born the eleven Rudranis who became wives of the Rudras. They are Dhi, Vrtti, Usana, Urna, Niyuta, Sarpis, Ila, Ambika, Iravatl, Sudha and Diksa. Brahma allotted to the Rudras the eleven positions of the heart and the five sensory organs, the five organs of action and the mind. Other Puranas call them Aja, Ekapada (Ekapat), Ahirbudhnya, Tvasta, Rudra, Hara, Sambhu, Tryambaka, Aparajita, Isana and Tribhuvana.
In one instance in the epic Mahabharata, the Rudras are eleven in number and are named Mrgavadha, Sarpa, Nirriti, Ajaikapad, Ahi Budhnya, Pinakin, Dahana, Ishvara, Kapalin, Sthanu and Bhaga. While Kapalin is described the foremost of Rudras here, in the Bhagavad Gita - a discourse by the god Krishna in the epic - it is Sankara who is considered the greatest of the Rudras. Both Kapalin and Sankara are epithets of Shiva. In another instance, they are described as sons of Tvastr and named: Vishvarupa, Ajaikapad, Ahi Budhnya, Virupaksa, Raivata, Hara, Bahurupa, Tryambaka, Savitra, Jayanta and Pinakin. While usually the Rudras are described to eleven, in one instance in the Mahabharata; they are said to be eleven thousand and surrounding Shiva. The eleven groups of hundred are named: Ajaikapad, Ahi Budhnya, Pinakin, Rta, Pitrrupa, Tryamabaka, Maheshvara, Vrsakapi, Sambhu, Havana and Ishvara.
The Matsya Purana mentions the ferocious eleven Rudras - named Kapali, Pingala, Bhima, Virupaksa, Vilohita, Ajesha, Shasana, Shasta, Shambhu, Chanda and Dhruva - aiding the god Vishnu in his fight against the demons. They wear lion-skins, matted-hair and serpents around their necks. They have yellow throats, hold tridents and skulls and have the crescent moon on their foreheads. Together headed by Kapali, they slay the elephant demon Gajasura.
In Vedic mythology, Rudras are described as loyal companions of Rudra, who later was identified with Shiva. They are considered as friends, messengers and aspects of Rudra. They are fearful in nature. The Satapatha Brahmana mentions that Rudra is the prince, while Rudras are his subjects. They are considered as attendants of Shiva in later mythology.
The Rig Veda makes the Rudras the gods of the middle world, situated between earth and sky. As wind-gods, the Rudras represent the life-breath. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Rudras are associated with the ten vital energies (rudra-prana) in the body and the eleventh being the Ātman (the soul).
The Rudras are said to preside over the second stage of creation and the intermediary stage of life. They govern the second ritual of sacrifice, the mid-day offering and the second stage of life - from the 24th to the 68 year of life. The Chandogya Upanishad prescribes that the Rudras be propitiated in case of sickness in this period and further says that they on departing the body become the cause of tears, the meaning of the name Rudra being the "ones who make cry". The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad explicitly states the fact that since the Rudras leaving the body - causing death - makes people cry, they are Rudras.
The Mahabharata describes the Rudras as companions of Indra, servants of Shiva and his son Skanda and companions of Yama, who is surrounded by them. They have immense power, wear golden necklaces and are "like lighting-illuminated clouds". The Bhagavata Purana prescribes the worship of the Rudras to gain virile power.
Association with Maruts
Some scholars believe that Rudras and Maruts were earlier distinct groups, Rudras being the true followers of Rudra and demonic in nature. But poets of the Rigveda forced the Maruts take the position of the Rudras to give status of a Vedic god to Rudra. Later in post-Vedic literature like the epics and Puranas, Maruts were associated with Indra, while Rudras gained their former status as followers of Rudra, who had evolved into Shiva. However, other scholars disregard this theory and consider that originally Rudras and Maruts were identical. A theory suggests that slowly in the Vedas two classes of Maruts came into existence: the friendly and beneficent, and the roaring and turbulent; the latter grew into the distinct group of deities called the Rudras, who were associated only with the wild Rudra.
In the Marut Suktas (RV 1, 2, 5, 8) and Indra-Suktas (RV 1, 3, 8, 10) of the Rigveda (RV), the epithet "Rudras" - originating from the verb root rud or ru and meaning howlers, roarers or shouters - is used numerous times for the Maruts - identifying them with the Rudras even when associated with Indra, rather than Rudra. There are some hymns in the Rigveda (RV 2, 7, 8, 10) that explicitly distinguish between the Maruts and the Rudras.
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