External Evidence for Bhasma dhāraṇam by Vaidikas of ancient times
While there are several upaniṣads such as the ‘Bhasma jābālopanilṣad’, ‘bṛhajjābālopaniṣad’, etc. containing injunctions, method of producing, etc. pertaining to bhasma and its dhāraṇam, there are smṛtis like the Parāśara upa purāṇam, the Śivagītā of the Padmapurāṇam (where there is reference to Rāma having performed / observed the Pāśupata vratam by donning the bhasma) etc. too enjoin bhasma dhāraṇam for vaidikas. These are considered to be internal evidences while distinguishing these from an external evidence for the practice of vaidikas donning the bhasma during the ancient past.
In the Padmapurāṇa is the ‘Śivagītā’ where there is an instance of Rāma observing a ‘Pāśupata vrata’ taught by Agastya. It involves Rāma donning the bhasma as prescribed:
This work has a commentary ‘Śivagītābhāṣyam’ written by Jagadguru Sri Abhinava Narasimha Bhārati who adorned the Sringeri Peeṭham from 1599 to 1622 AD. The Maṭha published it in 1962 from the manuscript preserved with it. It has been newly printed again very recently and is available for purchase.
The Fourth Chapter:
अथ चतुर्थोऽध्यायः ॥
सूत उवाच ॥
एवमुक्त्वा मुनिश्रेष्ठ गते तस्मिन्निजाश्रमम् ।
अथ रामगिरौ रामस्तस्मिन्गोदावरीतटे ॥ १॥
शिवलिङ्गं प्रतिष्ठाप्य कृत्वा दीक्षां यथाविधि ।
भूतिभूषितसर्वाङ्गो रुद्राक्षाभरणैर्युतः ॥ २॥
अभिषिच्य जलैः पुण्यैर्गौतमीसिन्धुसम्भवैः ।
अर्चयित्वा वन्यपुष्पैस्तद्वद्वन्यफलैरपि ॥ ३॥
भस्मच्छन्नो भस्मशायी व्याघ्रचर्मासने स्थितः ।
नाम्नां सहस्रं प्रजपन्नक्तन्दिवमनन्यधीः ॥ ४॥
मासमेकं फलाहारो मासं पर्णाशनः स्थितः ।
मासमेकं जलाहारो मासं च पवनाशनः ॥ ५॥
शान्तो दान्तः प्रसन्नात्मा ध्यायन्नेवं महेश्वरम् ।
हृत्पङ्कजे समासीनमुमादेहार्धधारिणम् ॥ ६॥
चतुर्भुजं त्रिनयनं विद्युत्पिङ्गजटाधरम् ।
कोटिसूर्यप्रतीकाशं चन्द्रकोटिसुशीतलम् ॥ ७॥
सर्वाभरणसंयुक्तं नागयज्ञोपवीतिनम् ।
व्याघ्रचर्माम्बरधरं वरदाभयधारिणम् ॥ ८॥
व्याघ्रचर्मोत्तरीयं च सुरासुरनमस्कृतम् ।
पञ्चवक्त्रं चन्द्रमौलिं त्रिशूलडमरूधरम् ॥ ९॥
नित्यं च शाश्वतं शुद्धं ध्रुवमक्षरमव्ययम् ।
एवं नित्यं प्रजपतो गतं मासचतुष्टयम् ॥ १०॥
These verses describe Rāma observing the ritual with the prescribed codes such as donning the bhasma at the prescribed places of the body and also putting on the Rudrākṣa mālā while performing this vrata.
There are these verses in the Śivagītā of the Padmapurāṇa from the above URL:
आत्मन्यग्निं समारोप्य याते अग्नेति मन्त्रतः ।
भस्मादायाग्निरित्याद्यैर्विमृज्याङ्गानि संस्पृशेत् ॥ २७॥
भस्मच्छन्नो भवेद्विद्वान्महापातकसम्भवैः ।
पापैर्विमुच्यते सत्यं मुच्यते च न संशयः ॥ २८॥
वीर्यमग्नेर्यतो भस्म वीर्यवान्भस्मसंयुतः ।
भस्मस्नानरतो विप्रो भस्मशायी जितेन्द्रियः ॥ २९॥
सर्वपापविनिर्मुक्तः शिवसायुज्यमाप्नुयात् ।
एवं कुरु महाभाग शिवनामसहस्रकम् ॥ ३०॥
इदं तु सम्प्रदास्यामि तेन सर्वार्थमाप्स्यसि ।
सूत उवाच ॥
इत्युक्त्वा प्रददौ तस्मै शिवनामसहस्रकम् ॥ ३१॥
वेदसाराभिधं नित्यं शिवप्रत्यक्षकारकम् ।
उक्तं च तेन राम त्वं जप नित्यं दिवानिशम् ॥ ३२॥
ततः प्रसन्नो भगवान्महापाशुपतास्त्रकम् ।
तुभ्यं दास्यति तेन त्वं शत्रून्हत्वाऽऽप्स्यसि प्रियाम् ॥ ३३॥
तस्यैवास्त्रस्य माहात्म्यात्समुद्रं शोषयिष्यसि ।
संहारकाले जगतामस्त्रं तत्पार्वतीपतेः ॥ ३४॥
The above verses describe the instruction Agastya gave to Rama regarding the bhasma dhāraṇa and the ritual to be followed. He instructed Rama the Śiva sahasra nāma too that is to be chanted by Rama during the vrata. The above verses say that this ‘Śiva sahasra nama is named ‘vedasāra śivasahasranāma’. One can compare this process with the Upamanyu’s instructions to Kṛṣṇa in the MB for a similar vratal Kṛṣṇa is to observe where too the ‘Śiva sahasra nāma’ was instructed. Thus, there is proof for a family in Tamil Nadu having a picture of Rama being worshiped by them where Rama is seen with bhasma.
There is no proof in the Valmiki Ramayana or other texts on what exact marks Rama, Krishna and other Avataras wore on their forehead. Pictures painted by followers of Madhva and Ramanuja apply the marks of their choice on the forehead of these gods thus showing there is no unanimity in this.
There is also absolutely no basis for the bloggers’ claim that ‘Śhankaracharya did not don the bhasma’. They have relied on a commentary that only alternatively gives the meaning to Padmapada’s word ‘nirasta bhūtim’ as ‘one without the vibhūti’ (contrasted with Lord Śiva) to buttress this claim. That such is not what that word means is easily appreciated when one understands that: While Lord Śiva had the śmaśāna bhasma (ashes of the crematorium) all over his body, from head to foot, Shankarācharya in his human form, just as a vaidika, donned the vibhūti, produced from the agnihotra ritual (śrouta) or by other prescribed (smārta) means and that too in the particular places of the body. There is bhasma dhāraṇa vidhi and mantras for it. The Bhasmajābāla Upaniṣad and other upaniṣads and smṛiti texts are authority for the time-immemorial practice of bhasma dhāraṇa by vaidikas.
This Upaniṣad teaches that Yati-s too have to don the bhasma:
मानस्तोकेन मन्त्रेण मन्त्रितं भस्म धारयेत् ।ऊर्ध्वपुण्ड्रं भवेत्सामं मध्यपुण्ड्रं त्रियायुषम् ॥ १॥ त्रियायुषाणि कुरुते ललाटे च भुजद्वये ।नाभौ शिरसि हृत्पार्श्वे ब्राह्मणाः क्षत्रियास्तथा ॥ २॥ त्रैवर्णिकानां सर्वेषामग्निहोत्रसमुद्भवम् ।इदं मुख्यं गृहस्थानां विरजानलजं भवेत् ॥ ३॥ विरजानलजं चैव धार्यं प्रोक्तं महर्षिभिः ।औपासनसमुत्पन्नं गृहस्थानां विशेषतः ॥ ४॥ समिदग्निसमुत्पन्नं धार्यं वै ब्रह्मचारिणा ।शूद्राणां श्रोत्रियागारपचनाग्निसमुद्भवम् ॥ ५॥ अन्येषामपि सर्वेषां धार्यं चैवानलोद्भवम् ।यतीनां ज्ञानदं प्रोक्तं वनस्थानां विरक्तिदम् ॥ ६॥ अतिवर्णाश्रमाणां तु श्मशानाग्निसमुद्भवम् ।सर्वेषां देवालयस्थं भस्म शिवाग्निजं शिवयोगिनाम् ।शिवालयस्थं तल्लिङ्गलिप्तं वा मन्त्रसंस्कारदग्धं वा ॥
The above verses stipulate the source of the bhasma for various varṇa/aśrama-s. Since Shankaracharya was a Paramahamsa Parivrājaka, and not an ativarṇāśramī, he donned the bhasma that has been produced in the manner stated in the Upaniṣad. From Shankara’s bhāṣya one can deduce the great importance Shankara gave to the observance of rules and following the dharma of one’s āśrama and varṇa. In the Īśāvāsya bhāṣya 8 he says: न हि शास्त्रविहितं किञ्चिदकर्तव्यतामियात् । [Nothing that the scripture enjoins is unworthy of adherence.] There are solutions to the problem of not being able to access the bhasma that is produced as per the method stipulated. A study of the commentary by Upaniṣad Brahmayogin to this and several other upaniṣads will give one the correct vaidika practice. The last cited verse above also says that for ativarṇaśramī the bhasma taken from the crematorium is stipulated. Since Lord Śiva was such a one, he is resplendent with the bhasma of the crematorium
External Evidence for bhasma dhāraṇam by vaidikas:
In the popular ‘sarva darśana sangraha’ of Āchārya Sāyaṇa-Mādhava, 13/14 CE, in the section pertaining to the delineation of Chārvākas (materialists/atheists) there is cited this famous verse as an ‘ābhāṇaka’ (popular saying):
अग्निहोत्रं त्रयो वेदास्त्रिदण्डं भस्मगुण्ठनम्। बुद्धिपौरुषहीनानां जीविका धातृनिर्मिता॥
Agnihotram trayo vedāḥ tridaṇḍam bhasmaguṇṭhanam
Buddhipauruṣahīnānām jīvakā dhātṛnirmitā.
[The practice of agnihotram, belief in and study and recitation of the three Vedas, the holding of the triple-staff (tridaṇḍam) and donning the bhasma – these are created as means of sustenance/survival by the Creator Lord for those who are dull-witted and lack enterprise.]
This verse is cited in the same connection by an even earlier author Kṛṣṇa Misra (12 CE) in his Prabodha Chandrodaya drama too. Even though the verse is a caricature of vaidikas by the materialist (some say this is a verse by Buddhist/Jains caricaturing vaidikas), yet it proves that vaidikas did don bhasma. Since the verse is popular even in the 12 CE, it goes without saying that the vaidikas of an even earlier period too were donning the bhasma as a veda vihita practice.
The Uttararāmacharitam of Mahākavi Bhavabhūti (8 CE) has a description of Lava’s physical appearance, son of Rāma:
चूडाचुम्बितकङ्कपत्रमभितस्तूणीद्वयं पृष्ठतो भस्मस्तोकपवित्रलाञ्छनमुरो धत्ते त्वचं रौरवीम् ।
मौर्व्या मेखलया नियन्त्रितमधो वासश्चमाञ्जिष्ठकं पाणौ कार्मुकमक्षसूत्रवसयं दण्डोऽपरः पैप्पलः ॥२०॥
The compound word highlighted above is explained in the commentary as: Lava’s chest was bearing the sacred, pavitra, insignia, mark, of bhasma. The commentary says that such is the way a Kṣatriya brahmachārin dresses himself.
13-208-55 आयुष्कामो द्विजो देवि धारयेद्भस्य नित्पशः। मोक्षकामी च यो विप्रो भूतिकामोथवा पुनः। पुनरावृत्तिरहितं लोकं सम्प्रतिपद्यते।
The above says: among other things the mokṣa aspirant brāhmaṇa should don the bhasma always. This teaching is given out by Shiva to pārvati in the Mahabhārata – ānuśāsanika parva.
On page 302 line 20, of the smṛti muktāphalam, a dharma śāstra work one can see a prescription of tiryak (horizontal) bhasmadharanam from Bharadwāja:
तिर्यक् त्रिपुण्ड्रं विधिना ललाटे हृदये जले..
Read in the ‘History of Dharmasastra by P. V. Kane’ – the material is available in Volume 2 – Part 1, Page 672-675. It describes both types of Pundradhāraṇa for both Vaisnavas and Śaivas. It gives references from smṛtis too that are relevant to this topic. It also cites the ‘smṛtimuktāphalam’ that gives a lot of details and a sage advice that P.V.Kane too is inclined to cite from this work: ‘Instead of calumnising each other, let the various sects follow what the śiṣṭas of their community do.’
There is the age-old practice of even reciting mantras (sadyojātam…vyometi bhasma…etc. stipulated in the Upanishads related to bhasma-producing and donning) while donning the bhasma. Śaivaite saints, whole lived much earlier to even Shankaracharya, some of whom were Brahmins, were performing agnihotram.
Thus, in the face of incontrovertible evidence in the Śruti, Smṛti, itihāsa and purāṇās and lives of vaidikas, for the prescription and practice of bhasma dhāraṇam by vaidikas, none can succeed in proving that such a practice was not present before and that it is only a recent practice by vaidikas.
Om Tat Sat