Lord Dakshinamurthy is a divine form of Lord Shiva as a teacher or guru. Also known as Jnana Dakshinamurthy as He is the bestower of jnana (knowledge), his teachings are in the form of para vak which is believed to be inaudible to human ears. He is the guru to Lord Brahma’s four sons, teaching them in silence. In the Vedic customs, A Guru (Spiritual Master or Teacher) is given a special place of reverence. Lord Dakshinamurthy is the personification of the ultimate awareness. In this form, Shiva is the guru with an abundance of understanding and knowledge on subjects like music and dance, yoga, wisdom, and shastra vidya (scriptural knowledge). Hence, Lord Dakshinamurthy is also known as the Lord of Wisdom, and a universal Guru.
‘Dakshinamurthy’ is made of ‘Dakshina’ meaning ‘South’ and Muruthy means ‘Vigrama’ or ‘Deity’ (idol); ‘The One Facing South’. One can find the deity of Jnana Dakshinamurthy in most Lord Shiva temples facing the South which is the direction of Death and Change. This Lord is regarded as the ultimate Guru who is the embodiment of knowledge and the destroyer of arrogance and ignorance, as His cosmic knowledge illuminates the world.
Lord Dakshinamurthy is often portrayed as a powerful form brimming with knowledge, perched in the yogic state of abstract meditation. Sometimes, he is shown holding the Veena and is known as Veenadhara Dakshinamurthy, and sometimes he is shown sitting atop a bull, and is known as Rishabharooda Dakshinamurthy.
Lord Dakshinamurthy is often depicted seated under a banyan tree, also known as Vada Ala Vruksham. His left leg crosses over the right knee in the Virasana pose and has four arms. His right lower hand is poised in Chinmudra pose, which indicates Perfection. The left lower hand clasps a bunch of palm-leaves that means he is the Guru of established teachings. In His right upper hand, he holds a drum, signifying that He is in harmony with Time and Creation. His upper left hand holds the flame of Knowledge to destroy all ignorance in the world. His right foot is planted over Apasmara purush– the mythical demon of ignorance. The index finger of the right hand is bent to touch the tip of His thumb, while the other three fingers are stretched apart in depictions. This is the symbolic hand gesture of Jnana Mudra – a symbol associated with wisdom and knowledge. However, sometimes Lord Dakshinamurthy is depicted with His hand in the Abhaya Mudra – a pose for blessing and assurance.
He wears a mala made from Rudraksha beads along with garlands made of flowers. He has a bright complexion, has the expression of sattva on His face, and a gentle smile that reassures His students.
There is a little ambiguity about the vahaana or vehicle of Lord Dakshinamurthy. In Kadambur temple, He is shown sitting on Rishaba – the bull, under a banyan tree. Rishabharooda Dakshinamurthy is also quite a common representation of Lord Shiva in this Guru avatar. However, some also associate Lord Dakshinamurthy with elephants, and it is believed that his vehicle is also the elephant.
Lord Dakshinamurthy has far more temples in Southern India as compared to Northern India, making his iconography and worship as primarily South Indian in nature. The Guru is made offerings of His favourite food and flowers – konda kadalai (or chick peas) and vella mullai (a type of Jasmine flower).
In the Vedas And Puranas:
The Bhagavata Purana mentions Lord Dakshinamurthy as the guru of Lord Brahma’s first four mind-born sons – Sanaka, Sanatana, Sanandana and Sankatkumara, who are collectively known as the Kumaras.
The first historical record of Lord Dakshinamurthy appears in the Skanda Puranam’s Suta Samhita. It is mentioned that Lord Shiva studied Suta Samhita eighteen times to familiarise himself with the text before He composed the Brahma Sutra Bhashyam. His familiarity to the text produced the Sri Dakshinamurthy Stotram. A Dakshinamurthy Upanishad also appears as part of Krishna Yajur Veda. The theme of this Upanishad is that Shiva’s knowledge is blissfully liberating, and is revealed to those who deserve it by Shiva in the form of Dakshinamurthy – the World Teacher.
He is seen as the Supreme Guru, the most popular tale associated to Lord Dakshinamurthy is that of how Lord Shiva took up his guru form. Lord Brahma gave birth to four sons, who were the creations of his mind. They were named Sanaka, Sanatana, Sanandana and Sankatkumara. He taught them all the Vedic secrets and philosophy he knew, sitting in silence. His teachings were through para vak – a divine form of speech that resides in the recessed of silence and required no ordinary expressions.
While most devotees believe that Lord Dakshinamurthy means ‘One Who Faces the South’ so He can face Death which signifies ‘change’ and attain liberation through His knowledge, Tantra tradition has a different philosophy. Lord Dakshinamurthy, a form of Lord Shiva, is a revered Guru of Kadi School of thought, where ‘Dakshina’ means the female principle. The female principle can crate, manifest and unfold, which is why when Dakshina combines with Shiva, Dakshinamurthi is formed – an androgynous form of Shiva. The Tantra tradition worships Lord Dakshinamurthy as Ardha-nari, as the form is often associated with Lord Shiva.