Vaishnavas believe that only Lord Vishnu can grant Moksha. If that is the case, then how do they explain this mantra from the Rig Veda which clearly says that Lord Shiva can grant Moksha?

Om tryambakaṃ yajāmahe sugandhiṃ puṣṭivardhanam urvārukamiva bandhanānmṛtyormukṣīya mā'mṛtāt


We worship the Three-eyed Lord who is fragrant and who nourishes and nurtures all beings. As is the ripened cucumber freed from its bondage (to the creeper), may He liberate us from death for the sake of immortality.

"Three-eyed Lord" is a clear reference to Lord Shiva, is it not? If so, then how can one say only Lord Vishnu can grant Moksha?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – The Destroyer Oct 16 '17 at 17:10
  • But how does it matter how some people interpret it? Each Mantra has limbs associated with them like Deva, Rishi, Chandah etc and from Deva we already know the Mantra belongs to which deity. – Rickross Oct 23 '18 at 6:53
  • I think Vaishnavas interpret 3 eyed lord to mean Narasimha. – Lazy Lubber Feb 11 at 19:36

Lord Narasimha is described as Mrityumrityu (Death's death) in the Nrisimha Mantra. Accordingly, Sri Vaishnavas interpret tryambaka - the three-eyed one as Narasimha. This is supported in various places including Shruti, Smriti and works of Acharyas (whether or not they subscribe to Vishishtadvaita philosophy). Here are a few examples:

  1. Nrisimha-Purva-Tapaniya Upanisad (NPTU) refers to Narasimha as three-eyed one and also as Mrityumrityu. The NPTU is pre-Sankaran as Sankara himself has written a commentary on it. See English translation here.

  2. Adi Sankara in his commentary on the NPTU There he says that the Lord Nrisimha is three-eyed and is referred to by names commonly used for the Lord Shiva such as pinAkI and nIlakaNTha "tasmāt nṛsiṃhaḥ parameśvaraḥ trinetraḥ nīlakaṇṭhaḥ pinākī iti siddham"

  3. The Ayushya Sukta of the Rigveda which is chanted in the Ayushya Homa and in the Udaka Shanti ceremony prays to Narasimha for a long life "suvarṇarambha grahamarkamarcam" referring to the "One who came out of a golden pillar"

  4. Vedanta Desika in his Kamasikashtakam verse 2, refers to Lord Lakshmi Narasimha as the three-eyed one - tapana indu agni nayanaH - One who has the Sun, Moon and Fire as his eyes. He also connects it with the Tapaniya Upanisad.

tapanēndvagni-nayanaḥ tāpānapacinōtu naḥ |
tāpanīya-rahasyānāṃ sāraḥ kāmāsikāhariḥ ||

tapana indu agni nayanaḥ – He has three eyes – the Sun, the Moon and the Fire
tāpanīya rahasyānām sāraḥ – He is the esoteric essence of the Nṛsimha Tāpanīya Upaniṣad
kāmāsikā hariḥ – He is Lord Narasimha of Tiruveḷukkai
naḥ tāpān apacinōtu – May He destroy our suffering.

Apart from these, there are several verses in the Pancharatra Agamas, etc. supporting this view.

  • I don't know what can be added to Tejaswee's answer to hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/21632/… ; on top of it Siva also gives the mrityunjaya mantrato Sukracharya in the puranas - But hey - revisionism floats some peoples' boats. – S K Feb 12 at 22:52
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    The question was "How to Vaishnavas interpret" this mantra especially in the context of the word "tryambakam" and I provided an answer with references to Vedic texts and works of revered Acharyas such as Adi Sankara and Vedanta Desika. Tejaswee's answer is irrelevant. The current question doesn't ask "What is the right interpretation of this mantra?". If you'd like to debate that point, we can do it on a separate thread. – hashable Feb 12 at 23:21

Disclaimer: The following answer has been written from a Ramanandi Vaishnava perspective.

Ramanandi Vaishnavas have absolutely no problem in accepting the fact that Lord Shiva is the deity being extolled in the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra since Jagadguru Ramanandacharya and great Ramanandi saints such as Tulsidas has accepted Hari-Hara-abheda and that Shiva, like Vishnu, is indeed a bestower of moksha.

However, Ramanandi Vaishnavas also believe that the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra can also be interpreted to be referring to Sri Rama Himself. This is how Swami Ramabhadracharya interprets the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra in one of his lectures:

Vashishthaji is its Rishi. Meaning Vashishthaji is the one who recieved this mantra...He said "Tryambakam Yajamahe". What did he say? "Tryambakam". What does "Tryambakam" mean? Generally, Vedic scholars will interpret it to be referring to the three-eyed Shiva. That is indeed the correct interpretation but it also has another interpretation. "Tryambakam Yajamahe". Three Ambas i.e. the one who has three mothers: Kaushalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra. "Tryambak", what does "Amba" mean? Mother. So what does "Tryambakam" mean? The one who has three mothers, that person "yajamahe" i.e. Lord Sri Rama we worship..."Tryambakam Yajamahe"- we worship the one who has three mothers...sugandhim pustivardhanam. From who's body is the sacred fragrance being emanated. Pustivardhanam, who is healthy. What does "Pusti" mean? To nourish. The dependence of devotees over the Lord and the Lord's blessings over His devotees is what "Pusti" refers to. (Translated from Hindi)

  • Rama had three mothers!?!?!!? – Spark Sunshine Feb 11 at 19:31
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    @NaveenKick In a way, yes. Why are you so startled? – Surya Kanta Bose Chowdhury Feb 11 at 19:51
  • See this hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/20321/11510.Tryambaka means three eyes ambak means eye and ambika means mother.Lord shiva is called tryambaka not tryambika plus the diety Is Rudra not anyone else and there are evidence from puranas and vedas also ,It is dedicated to Lord shiva only. – Karmanya Nanda Feb 12 at 4:38
  • @Partha Swami Ramabhadracharya has categorically stated that it also does refer to Shiva. He believes Vedic verses can have multiple interpretations and all can be correct. Also, nobody is disputing the fact Rama worshipped Shiva. Tulsidas Himself states in the Ramcharitmanas that Lord Shiva's body embodies the knowledge of Brahman and is Supreme. – Surya Kanta Bose Chowdhury Feb 12 at 5:39
  • @SuryaKantaBoseChowdhury but In mantra shiva is called Tryambaka not tryamba 'ambak' means eye!nowhere Shri Rama is called tryambaka in valmiki ramayana rather shiva is only called tryambaka in Valmiki Ramayana.that verse diety is also Lord Rudra.It is only dedicated to Lord shiva. – Karmanya Nanda Feb 12 at 6:41

Read this and it gives detailed analysis about this fact, very interesting:

Lord Siva can grant Moksha as well as he cannot grant Moksha. I will reconcile it as follows:

1) Lord Shiva cannot give Moksha

In Harivamsa,Bhavishya parva,chapter 80,there is a incident of the pisacha named as Ghantakarna,who was the ardent devotee of Lord Shiva, to such a extent that he even was engaged in insulting Lord Vishnu. But Later on,he was able to understand the supremacy of Lord Vishnu,by the grace of Lord Shiva.Thus he was able to attain mukti,it is stated as follows:

aham kailasa nilayamasadya vrishabadhvajam

aradhya tam mahadevamastuvam satatam shivam ||3-80-28

“Ghantakarna said: Once upon a time,I went to the abode of Kailasa,where Lord Shiva resides.There I engaged myself regularly in glorifying Lord Siva and worshipping him.”

tatah prasanno mamaha vrinnishveti varam harah |

tato muktirmaya tatra prarthita devasannidhau ||3-80-29

“Being pleased with my worship,Lord Shiva became happy,and thereby he told me to ask for some benediction.I requested him to give me mukti(Liberation or moksha).”

muktim prarthayamanam mam punaraha trilochanah | muktipradata sarvesam visnureva na samshayah ||3-80-30

“Seeing me asking for Mukti,Lord Siva said to me that the the giver of Mukti is only Lord Vishnu,of this there should not be any doubt.”

tasmadgatva ca badarim tatraradhya janardanam |

muktim prapnuhi govindannaranarayanashrame ||3-80-31

“Lord Shiva told me to go the Badari tirtha and staying in the hermitage of Nara-narayana sages, worship Lord Janardana.”

iti ukto devadevena shulina jnatavanaham |

tameva paramam matva govindam garudadvajam ||3-80-32

tasmat prathyamanah sanmuktim deshamamum gatah

“Being told by Lord Shiva in such a manner,I considered Lord Vishnu to be supreme and came here to stay in this place,to ask for the benediction of Mukti.”

The above incident is the part of the discussion between the Ghantakarna and Lord Krishna. And proves the fact that Lord Shiva cannot give Mukti to those,who don’t understand the fact that Lord Vishnu is supreme.The word “visnur eva na samsayah” is a emphatic statement used by Lord Siva to prove that only Lord Krishna can grant Moksha.(liberation) and no one else.

In Brihat Brahma samhita 3.9.68)one of the pancharatra samhita),Lord shiva says to Gautama muni as follows:

devo hi mat parah saksad paramatma sanatanah

narayano asti jagatam moksadah purusottamah

“ Lord Narayana is even superior to me and he alone can give moksha to everyone.”

In Brihat Brahma samhita 3.9.32,Lord Shiva further states:

na aham kaivalyado rajan paratantrah svabhavatah

svatantrah sarvabhuta atma paramatma ramapatih

“Oh King ,I,am not the giver of Moksha. By nature,I,am subservient to lord Vishnu. Whereas Lord Vishnu is completely independent and the atma (supersoul) of all the living entities.”

In the Skanda Purana, Lord Shiva tells Karttikeya:

shiva-shastreshu tad grahyam

bhagavac-chastra-yogi yat

paramo vishnur evaikas

taj jnanam moksha-sadhanam

shastranam nirnayas tv

eshas tad anyan mohanaya hi. iti.

“The statements of the Saiva scriptures should be accepted only when they agree with the Vaishnava scriptures. Lord Vishnu is the only Supreme Lord, and knowledge of Him is the path to liberation. That is the conclusion of all the scriptures. Any other conclusions are meant only to bewilder the people.” ( quoted by jiva goswami in parmatma sandarbha)

Similar verses are also quoted by Madhvacharya from Padma purana,uttara khanda 71.114 verse in mahabharata tataparya nirnaya 1.53. It is as follows:

paramo vishnur eva ekas tad jnanam moksa sadhanam |

shastranam nirnayas tu esha tad anyana mohanaya hi

“ The Lord Vishnu is the only one Supreme lord. And knowledge of Him leads to liberation. That is the conclusion of all the scriptures. Any other conclusions are meant only to bewilder the people.”

One need to also understand that Lord Vishnu is the controller of the mode of goodness.Hence the scriptures states that by worshipping the Lord Vishnu,one can easily attained the liberation. Kurma purana 1.21.32 states as follows:

sattvena mucyate jantuḥ sattvātmā bhagavān hariḥ

“By the mode of goodness, living entities are liberated. and Lord Hari is the embodiment of pure goodness.”

In Harivamsa 3.89.5,Lord Shiva states:

esha vo moksadata

“Lord Krishna is the giver of Moksha.”

Harivamsa 3.89.9 states:

harir ekah sada dhyeyo bhavadbhih sattvam sthitaih

na anyo jagati devo asti visnor narayanat parah |

“Lord Hari alone should always be mediated upon,since he alone is capable of freeing us from he ocean of material life,being the form of pure goodness.There are no other demigods who are superior to Lord Narayana.”

Srimad Bhagavatam 1.2.23 also states:

sattvaṁ rajas tama iti prakṛter guṇās tair

yuktaḥ paraḥ puruṣa eka ihāsya dhatte

sthity-ādaye hari-viriñci-hareti saṁjñāḥ

śreyāṁsi tatra khalu sattva-tanor nṛṇāṁ syuḥ

“The transcendental Lord is indirectly associated with the three modes of material nature, namely passion, goodness and ignorance, and just for the material world’s creation, maintenance and destruction He accepts the three qualitative forms of Brahma, Vishnu and Śiva. Of these three, all human beings can derive ultimate benefit (sreya) from Lord Vishnu, the form of the quality of goodness.

Note the usage of the word Sreya(utlimate good,that is Moksha) in the above verse means the opposite of preya(sense gratification),as explained in Katha upanishad.Thus one who is interested in liberation should worship Lord Vishnu alone.

Thus the above statements states that only Lord Krishna can give Moksha and not anyone else.Lord Krishna is the embodiment of pure goodness,hence he is the giver of Moksha to all of us.

2) The second part of the answer will now explain How lord Shiva can grant Moksha.

Once upon a time,Lord Shiva did severe penance for the period of one year,to worship Lord Vishnu.Then Lord Shiva obtained the vision of the Lord Vishnu and asked the boon to obtain the power to give mukti (liberation) to others.Thus Lord Shiva became Muktidata(giver of liberation or Moksha).This incident is mentioned in Padma Purana,uttara khanda,chapter 2.16 as follows:

Lord Shiva says as follows to Narada Muni:

tava prasadad devesa muktidata bhavamy aham

“By the mercy of Lord Vishnu,I became capable of giving Mukti to others.”

This incident is also mentioned in Skanda purana,Bhagavata Mahatmya,chapter 3.39–42. It is stated as follows:

“Lord Rudra said:

O lord of Devas,O my Lord, I have ample power in the case of the annihilation of Nitya(daily) ,Naimmitika(occasional) and prakrta(pertaining to prakriti)types.But I do not have any power in regard to Atyantika(ultimate) annihilation(liberation or Moksha). On account of this,I,am very unhappy,therefore ,I request you.

Sri Brihaspati said:

Lord Narayana then imparted Srimad Bhagavatam to Lord Rudra. By resorting to it,he conquered the tamas guna.

The story of Bhagavata was then read by Lord Shiva for a period of one year. Thereafter Lord Sadasiva obtained the power to manage the ultimate annihilation(atyantika)(Moksha) as well.”

Lord Shiva is known to be the greatest of the vaishnavas,thus he gives the knowledge of Lord Krishna to the devotees,and thereby people get Moksha. Narada Muni,pracetas(as described in srimad bhagavatam) and many other sages of the ancient past have considered Lord Shiva as the guru(spiritual master) and they learned the science of Bhagavata dharma from Lord Shiva.When Lord Shiva gets pleased with such devotee’s unflinching and unmotivated devotional service,Lord Krishna is also pleased.Just as the Guru is considered non-different from God,similarly Lord Shiva is considered nondifferent from Lord Krishna. In Narada pancaratra 2.5.9,Narada identifies the nondifference of Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu. But Lord Siva then immediately clarifies that this nondifference is on account of Lord Siva being a guru, and a disciple understand guru to be nondifferent from Lord Krishna.This nondifference is not on account of absolute identity of svarupa.

It is stated in Narada pancharatra 2.5.12–13 as follows:

Lord shiva says to Narada:

“A disciple (Narada,for whom Lord Siva is the guru) who is highly religious, intelligent, a good Brahmana, pure and born of a noble family considers his Guru equal to Lord Krsna.

And that vile wretch who considers any other Demigod equal to Krsna, is quite illiterate, and certainly commits the sin of Brahmahatya.”

(Thus the above verses explains this nondifference in proper perspective and simultaneously condemns equating any devata with Lord Krishna.)

Lord Siva being the giver of jnana and Lord Krishna being the giver of Moksha is explained as follows:

Skanda Purana states as follows:

isanat jnanam anvicchet

moksham icchet janardanat

“Seek Knowledge from Lord Siva and liberation from Lord Janardana.”

Lord Siva is the best of the vaishnavas and therefore,he is the best of yogis and best of the jnanis. This fact is stated in Narada Pancaratra 1.1.63 as follows:

vaisnavam ca siddhanam jnaninam yoginam sivaḥ

“Lord Siva is the best of vaishnava, best of yogi,best amongst the knowers of absolute truth and the best amongst all the siddhas.”

Many of the times,scriptures describe that Lord Siva gives Taraka Brahma mantra to those,who die in Varanasi.This Taraka Brahma mantra is known to be the names of Lord Rama.Thus by chanting the names of Lord Rama,Lord Siva becomes able to give Mukti to them.

Padma purana,svarga khanda,chapter 33.46,54 states:

yatra saksad mahadevo dehante svayam isvarah

vyacaste tarakam brahma tatra eva hi avimukteke

“Lord Siva ,who is the Isvara of all, gives the taraka brahma(rama nama) mantra to those who die in Varanasi.”

varanasyam mahadevat jnanam labdhva vimuchyate

“In Varanasi,those who obtain the jnana(knowledge of Lord Vishnu,taraka brahma) from Lord Mahadeva,they gets liberated.”

Finally I would like to conclude by quoting the statement of Narada Pancaratra 1.2.7,46,47 as follows:

vraja vraja dvija śīghraṃ śaṅkaraṃ jñāna-sindhum /

labha labha hari-bhaktiṃ vaiṣṇavoktāṃ supakvāṃ /

bhava-nigaḍa-nibandha-chedinīṃ kartanīṃ ca //

“Cease, Cease,О Brahmana,go fast to Lord Sankara, the ocean of knowledge and obtain the Hari bhakti (devotion to lord Hari) from him, as spoken by Vaisnavas, that will severe like an axe to the hard bonds of Samsara.”

śaṅkaraś ca guruṃ kṛtvā hari-bhaktiṃ labhāciram //

supakvā hari-bhaktiś ca taraṇī bhava-tāraṇe /

gurur eva paraṃ brahma karṇa-dhāra-svarūpakaḥ //

” Go and adopt Lord Sankara as your Guru and obtain Hari bhakti from him. By attaining Hari bhakti,one will cross over this samsara. Guru is parabrahma,and he acts like the helmsman to cross this ocean of samsara.”

Thus the above two verses from the Narada Pancharatra asks all the devotees to obtain the Hari Bhakti from Lord Siva,who acts as the guru for all the vaishnavas.

Thus to summarise:

1)Lord Krishna being independent , alone can give Moksha directly to his devotees. 2)Lord Siva is able to give Mukti to some of the devotees,on account of the mercy of Lord Krishna,not on his own. 3)Lord Siva is considered as best of the vaishnava, and therefore he act as the Guru of all of us.Guru being nondifferent from Krishna,Lord Siva is considered as nondifferent from Lord Krishna. 4)One should take the Hari Bhakti from Lord Siva,and thereby attain liberation.

Read more

  • Please feel free to prune the answer, if required. – Just_Do_It Oct 16 '17 at 15:09
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    This doesn't answer the question of how Vaishnavas interpret the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra. – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 16 '17 at 20:28
  • :) got it. Point noted. – Just_Do_It Oct 16 '17 at 20:29
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    Well,see this answer hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/16596/11510 Lord Shiva can give moksha alone according to Vedic statememts here so this verses contradicats with upanishad and Vedic statements and shurti is considered superior to smriti mahabharaata drona Parva section cci says Lord vishnu performs penance to Lord Shiva so both worship each other and are supreme and both can give moksha by their own. – Karmanya Nanda Oct 17 '17 at 9:18
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    The verses quoted in the above answer are not in contradiction with Sruti! – brahma jijnasa Oct 21 '18 at 18:58

There is no need of Vaishnava's interpreting this mantra.Interpretation is given only by someone who is interested in the mantra.Vaishnavas have assurance from Sri Vishnu that He will liberate His devotees from mrityu and give mukti (Uddhaar)

Tesham aham samudharta mritysamsaarasagarat (Gita,12/7).

So why would Vaishnavas even chant the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra? They have surrendered to Sri Vishnu for their salvation!

By the way, the ajectives sugandhi and Pustivardhana are adjectives of Urvaruka and not of Tryamvaka.

  • Sri Vaishnavas do chant this mantra. It is commonly chanted during the Raksha Bandhana ceremony which is done before every major function such as a wedding. – hashable Feb 12 at 22:42
  • @hashable pl check this answer. If Sri Vaishnavas utter it than it IS very surprising : hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/21632/… – user17294 Feb 17 at 7:43
  • you are assuming that answer is the only valid interpretation. There are no doubt mantras in the Vedas that are addressed to other deities but according to Visistadvaita philosophy, the results are always given by Vishnu who is the indweller of all those deities who are all jivatmas. Srivaishnavas chant all Vedic mantras without sectarian exclusion for this reason. Like I said, this particular mantra is chanted in the Raksha bandhana ritual. – hashable Feb 17 at 16:46

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