How Shiva got the name Rudra

Once Brahma and Vishnu were talking and talking and talking endlessly. In everything, they are endless! When they are silent, they do not utter a word for thousands of years; and then again, when they resume talking, they can talk for thousands of years uninterruptedly.

On this occasion, they were enjoying one of their birthless and deathless talks when, all of a sudden, Shiva appeared. For some reason, Shiva sometimes assumes a very rough manner. On that day, everything about him was uncouth. Shiva is not polished like the other cosmic gods. Around his neck there are skulls; he is adorned with snakes; his dear ones are ghosts and his favourite place is the cremation ground. Shiva’s manners are also not refined. He is not sociable, let us say.

It was in this unseemly guise that he came to Brahma and Vishnu. Vishnu recognised Shiva, but Brahma could not. In fact, Brahma became furious at the intruder. “How dare you come and stand in front of us!” he exclaimed. “We are two cosmic gods! You have no respect for us!”

“You cannot recognise Lord Shiva?” said Vishnu.

“That is not Shiva!” insisted Brahma.

At that moment, Vishnu opened up Brahma’s third eye. “O my God,” said Brahma, “it is Shiva!” He said to Shiva, “Please forgive me, forgive me!”

“All right, I forgive you,” Shiva agreed. At first, Shiva had been furious when Brahma was insulting him. Shiva wanted to open up his third eye and destroy Brahma then and there. But when Brahma asked for forgiveness, Shiva brought forward his compassion aspect. He forgave Brahma unconditionally.

Still Brahma was not fully satisfied. He said to Shiva, “You have to prove that you have forgiven me.”

“What kind of proof do you want?” asked Shiva.

“You have to take incarnation in my family,” declared Brahma. “You have to take birth as my son.”

“Fine, fine,” said Shiva. “I shall take incarnation in your family. I will be your son.”

After it was decided that Shiva would be born on earth as Brahma’s son, Shiva left the presence of Vishnu and Brahma.

Since Vishnu and Brahma had talked for such a long time, both of them were now completely exhausted. Vishnu said, “Let me enjoy a little rest.” Brahma added, “Let me also enjoy rest, a very short rest.”

As soon as Vishnu lay down, he fell asleep and started snoring. He was completely in another world. Brahma lay down very near Vishnu. They were practically side by side. Brahma was still partially awake. The moment Vishnu fell asleep, something curious happened. From one of his ears a tiny being emerged, and that being wanted to eat some honey.

A few minutes later, Vishnu woke up. Meanwhile, from his other ear, another being was coming out. This other being was like an insect. The very nature of an insect is to bite, so it wanted to bite Brahma. These two tiny beings were hostile forces, or demons. Their names were Madhu and Koitava. Madhu means “honey” and Koitava is from the word kit, meaning “insect”. Our Indian mythology is flooded with these two names.

Madhu and Koitava found that the person nearest to them was Brahma, and so both of them went to kill him. They were evil incarnate. Although one was like an insect and the other was also very tiny, demons can take any form they wish. So Madhu and Koitava suddenly became huge and powerful. They were extremely ugly looking, plus unbearably fat.

After assuming these huge and frightening forms, Madhu and Koitava caught Brahma off guard and started fighting with him. He shouted, “What are you doing?” He fought, but he could not kill them and they also could not kill him. Then Vishnu entered the picture. He became furious.

“From my body you two came out and this is how you are behaving?” he thundered. He then proceeded to destroy the two demons.

Brahma was so happy to see Madhu and Koitava lying dead. He started meditating. All of a sudden, he said, “Shiva promised that he would take incarnation in my family. He said he would be my son. Look at his lies! Shiva never keeps his promises — never, never, never!” Brahma reflected for a moment and continued, “I must pray to Shiva and again remind him of his promise. He promised that he would come to me as my son.”

So Brahma prayed to Shiva for five thousand years, but Shiva did not appear at all. One day, Brahma began shedding bitter tears because Shiva had failed to keep his promise. Brahma said, “I cannot go on in vain. Even after seeing my tears, Shiva is not coming. I am crying like an infant, but he is deaf to my prayers. I have now decided to commit suicide. Shiva is a liar. He is not going to come. So the best thing is for me to immolate myself.”

After saying these words, Brahma committed suicide. As soon as he had done so, Shiva came out of Brahma’s mouth. While coming out, Shiva was crying and crying, and at the same time Brahma was revived. Brahma was so happy to see his son. When he noticed Shiva’s tears, Brahma became very concerned.

“Why are you crying, why are you crying, my child?” he asked.

Shiva said that he was crying while taking human incarnation because he was entering into world-ignorance. For this reason Brahma gave him the name Rudra, meaning “he who cries pitifully”. There is also another aspect to the name, which is “he who destroys”. In the course of time, Shiva also manifested this other aspect using the power of his third eye.

So this is the story of how Shiva came to have the name Rudra.