That Śiva is known as Mahāmṛtyuñjaya, the Great Conqueror of Death. He is known as the Conquerer of Death not only because He is beyond birth and death, but by knowing and realizing Him, one becomes deathless. Theistically speaking, the Conqueror of Death guides His worshipper to reach beyond the ocean of birth and death, and unto oneness with Him, the Great Lord (Mahādeva).
There are two great widely known and recited Śiva mantras from the Vedic Samhitās – the Mahāmṛtyuñjaya Mantra and the Pañcākṣara Mantra (Namaḥ Śivāya). The Pañcākṣara Mantra comes to us from the the core of the Yajurveda (within the Rudra Adhyāya chapter), and generally speaking is deemed more important by Śaivites. Nevertheless, the Mahāmṛtyuñjaya Mantra is of extreme importance too. As with the Pañcākṣara Mantra, the Mahāmṛtyuñjaya Mantra is also found in the Yajurveda, within the Rudra Adhyāya chapter. However, it is originally traced back to the Rgveda, and attributed to Mahārishi Vasiṣtha.
The Mahāmṛtyuñjaya Mantra is recommened to be chanted for two purposes – health and liberation. It delivers both relief from worldly suffering and realization to transcend worldliness. It is the mahā-mantra of bhukti (enjoyment) and mukti (liberation). Let us then proceed to learn the Mahāmṛtyuñjaya Mantra:
ॐ त्र्यम्बकं यजामहे सुगन्धिं पुष्टिवर्धनम्।
उर्वारुकमिव बन्धनान् मृत्योर्मुक्षीय मामृतात्॥
aum tryambakaṁ yajāmahe sugandhiṁ puṣṭi vardhanam |
urvārukamiva bandhanān mṛtyormukṣīya māmṛtāt ||
Aum! We worship the fragrant three-eyed One, the Promoter of prosperity.
May we be freed from the bondage of death as a cucumber from its stalk;
But not from immortality.
Rgveda Saṁhitā VI:59:12
Śukla Yajurveda Saṁhitā III:60
The Lord here is called tryambakaṁ (the three-eyed One). The third eye indicates His omniscience. He is all-knowing, unlike us whose knowledge is limited by the kañcukas (coverings) created by māyā.
The Lord is compared to sugandha (fragrance) because just as fragrance permeates within the air, so the Lord permeates throughout creation. He is all-pervasive.
The Lord is called puṣṭi vardhanam (promoter of prosperity) because He ever nourishes the intellect of those who unfold on His path. The Lord is concealed within creation by His Concealing Grace (tirodhana), and the nourishment indicates His Revealing Grace (anugraha).
The release from bondage (of life and death) is likened in this mantra to the release of the cucumber from its stalk. The cucumber is the individual being (paśu), and the stalk is represents the bondage of saṁsāra (pāśa), the web of life and death in which we live. Just as when the cucumber when ripe breaks its bonds with its stalk, so the individual paśu when mature enough breaks the bonds or pāśas of ānava (ego), karma and māyā (phenomenal world), and reaches the immortal state (oneness with Śiva).
Let us contemplate on this mahā-mantra, pregnant with meaning, and try to imbibe its teachings to the best of our abilities. It is only by the grace of that Mahāmṛtyuñjaya that we can hope to cross the ocean of birth and death. Therefore, we take refuge in Him, now and always!
aum mṛtyuñjaya mahādeva trāhi māṁ śaraṇāgatam |
janmamṛtyujarāvyādhi pīḍitaṁ karmabandhanaiḥ ||
Aum, O Great Lord Mṛtyuñjaya, I take refuge in You, pray protect me;
And relieve me of the painful experiences of birth, death, old-age and disease.
© 2007, Agnideva