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
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 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
    Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 6:53
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    I think Vaishnavas interpret 3 eyed lord to mean Narasimha.
    – user16581
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 19:36

3 Answers 3


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
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 22:52
  • 4
    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
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 23:21
  • @hashable Thanks for the answer. What about Tejaswee's answer where the says the mantra is dedicated to Rudra according to the Anukramani?
    – Ikshvaku
    Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 14:34
  • @Iksvaku The anukramani doesn't have any special status. It is an interpretation by an editor. Existence of one interpretation, even if it be the dominant interpretation of the day doesn't prevent another from existing. Your question is about the Vaishnava interpretation.
    – hashable
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 0:22
  • @hashable I agree there are references to Lord Nrsimha being portrayed as Mrtyunjaya. In addition to the list you have provided, Sri Nrsimha Purana also has a Mrtyunjaya Mantra on Lord Nrsimha (recited by The sage Markandeya), and that goes very close to the one on Lord Rudra as Mrtyunjaya (rudram pashupatim sthAnum nIlakanTam umApatim). That said, the one I disagree with you is, it is not conclusive that Sri Adi Sankara wrote the bhashyam for Nrsimha Tapinya Upanisad. The Sankara Matams don't include that, though some publications do, and neither does the Advaita Ashram. Contd in next msg.
    – Vidyarthi
    Commented Apr 8, 2020 at 1:37

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!?!?!!? Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 19:31
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    @NaveenKick In a way, yes. Why are you so startled?
    – user9969
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 19:51
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    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. Commented Feb 12, 2019 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.
    – user9969
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 5:39
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    @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. Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 6:41

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
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 22:42
  • @hashable pl check this answer. If Sri Vaishnavas utter it than it IS very surprising : hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/21632/…
    – user17294
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 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
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 16:46
  • @hashable I wish this is how all Sri Vaishnavas interpreted and included The Vedas. But I will have to differ based on how you stated (unless you can qualify it saying not all Sri Vaishnavas take this position). The question posed by OP is hard to answer because that requires answering & speaking for "all vaishnavas" (not restricted to Sri Vaishnavas). I have come across Tamil Sri Vaishnavas who tend to avoid some parts of The Vedas because according to them they glorify anya dEvatas (like for example, Sri Durga Suktam of Sri Maha Narayana Upanisad, part of which also appears in The Rg Veda)
    – Vidyarthi
    Commented Apr 12, 2020 at 2:36
  • I am also interested in understanding the origins of this (Tamil) Vaishnavite theology claiming Lord Rudra cannot grant mOksha (which I don't personally agree with), but I would have stated this question differently. As stated, this question is too broad, seeking an answer that applies to all vaishnavas. It is easier to answer with precision if it is qualified & restricted for Sri Vaishnavism or applied to some institution (like how do the followers of Sri Ahobhila Matam interpret this Mrtyunjaya Mantra?). Such questions restrict the scope, promoting the possibility of precision in the answer.
    – Vidyarthi
    Commented Apr 12, 2020 at 2:45

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