Ending of Mundaka Upanishad talks about śirovrata (शिरोव्रत):

तदेतदृचाऽभ्युक्तम् । क्रियावन्तः श्रोत्रिया ब्रह्मनिष्ठाः स्वयं जुह्वत एकर्षिं श्रद्धयन्तः ।
तेषामेवैतां ब्रह्मविद्यां वदेत शिरोव्रतं विधिवद् यैस्तु चीर्णम् ॥ मुण्डकोपनिषत् ३-२-१०॥

III-ii-10: This (rule) has been revealed by the mantra (which runs thus): 'To them alone should one expound this knowledge of Brahman who are engaged in the practice of disciplines, versed in the Vedas, and indeed devoted to Brahman, who personally sacrifice to the fire called Ekarsi with faith, and by whom has been duly accomplished the vow of holding fire on the head.'

तदेतत् सत्यमृषिरङ्गिराः पुरोवाच नैतदचीर्णव्रतोऽधीते ।
नमः परमऋषिभ्यो नमः परमऋषिभ्यः ॥ ११॥

III-ii-11: The seer Angiras spoke of this Truth in the days of yore. One that has not fulfilled the vow does not read this. Salutation to the great seers. Salutation to the great seers.

From the translation, it seems that it's "a vow of holding fire named Ekarshi on head" or a fire ritual.

I want to know what is the ritual of holding a fire named "Ekarshi" on head, called "Shirovrata"? Do we have any details/description available on how this ritual is performed?

3 Answers 3


The Devī Bhāgavata Purāṇa has the description of a vrata by the same name.

Chapter IX

On the rules of Śirovrata

1-43. Śrī Nārāyana said :-- The Brāhmanas that will perform duly the Śirovrata, to be described in the following, are the only ones who will attain very easily the highest knowledge, destroying all Avidyā or Ignorance. So much so that the rules of right living and right conduct as ordained in the Śrutis and Smritis are not necessary to be observed by those who duly and devotedly perform the Śirovrata (i.e., vow of the head; i.e., vow to apply ashes on the forehead). O Learned One! It is through this Śirovrata that Brahmā and the other Devas have been able to get their Brahmāhood and the Devahood. The ancient sages glorified highly this Śirovrata. Brahmā, Visnu, Rudra and the other Devas all performed this Śirovrata. O Wise One! Those that performed duly this Śirovrata, all became sinless though they were sinful in every way. Its name is Śirovrata, inasmuch as it is mentioned in the first part of the Atharva Veda. Only this vrata (vow) is called Śirovrata; no other thing is denominated by this name. By no other merit can this be acquired. O Muni! Different names are assigned to this vrata in different Śākhās; in fact, they are all one and the same.

N. B. -- Pāsupata vrata, Śivavrata, etc., are the different names assigned to it. In all the Śākhās, the One Substance, Intelligence solidified named Śiva and the knowledge thereof is mentioned. This is "Śirovrata." He who does not perform this Śirovrata, is irreligious and he is banished from all religious acts, though he is well-qualified in all branches of learning. There is no manner of doubt in this. This Śirovrata is like the blazing fire in destroying wholly the forest of sins. All knowledge fleshes before him who performs this Śirovrata. The Atharva Śruti expounds the subtle and particularly incomprehensible things; this Śruti declares the above Śirovrata as daily to be done; so it is one of the daily observances. "Fire is ashes," "water is ashes," "earth is ashes," "air is ashes," "ether or Ākāśa is ashes," "all this manifest Universe is ashes." These six mantras stated in the Atharva Veda are to be recited; after this, ashes are to be besmeared all over the body. This is named the Śirovrata. The devotee is to put on these ashes named Śirovrata during his Sandhyopāsanā (practising Sandhyā thrice a day); so long as the Brahmā Vidyā (the knowledge of Brahmā) does not arise in him. One is to make a Sankalpa (resolve) of twelve years before one starts with this Vrata. In cases of incapability, a period of one year or six months, or three months or at least twelve days are to be adopted. That Guru is considered very cruel and his knowledge will come to an end who hesitates and does not impart the knowledge of the Vedas and other things to him who is purified by observing this Śirovrata. Know him certainly as a very merciful Guru who illumines the heart by Brahmā Vidyā just as God is very merciful and compassionate to all the living beings. One who performs one's own Dharmas for many births, acquires particular faith in this Śirovrata; others can have no faith in this. Rather he gets animosity for this vrata, because of the abundance of ignorance in him. So one ought never to advise on spiritual knowledge to an enemy who has no faith, rather who has hatred for any such thing. Those only that are purified by the observance of Śirovrata are entitled to Brahmā Vidyā; and none others. So the Vedas command :-- Those are to be advised on Brahmā Vidyā who have performed Śirovrata. Even the animal becomes freed of his animalism, as a result of this vrata; no sin occurs in killing that animal; this is the decision of the Vedānta. It has been repeatedly uttered by Jāvāla Risi that the Dharma of the Brāhmanas is to put on the Tripundra (three curved lines of ashes on the forehead). The householders are instructed to put on this Tripundra by repeating the mantra "triyamvaka"' with Om prefixed. Those that are in the stage of the Bhiksus (Sannyāsis, etc.,) are to put on this Tripundra uttering thrice the mantra "Om Hasah." Such is regularly stated in Jāvāla Śruti. The house holders and the Vānaprasthis (foresters) are to put on this Tripundra, uttering Triyamvaka mantra purified with "Haum" the pranava of Śiva prefixed.


Here ends the Ninth chapter of the Eleventh Book on the rules of Śirovrata in the Mahāpurānam Śrī Mad Devī Bhāgavatam of 18,000 verses by Mahārsi Veda Vyāsa.


The following is from an online discussion forum with title "Mandukyopanishad for the Sanyasis"

The munDakas were followers of the atharvaveda who underwent a special discipline as part of the study of their shakha called shirovrata. The upanishad itself explains it thus.

kriyAvantaH shrotrIyA brahmaniShTa svayaM juhvata ekarShiM shraddhayantaH | teShAmevaitAM brahmavidyAM vadeta shirovrataM vidhivadyaistu chIrNam ||

"Versed in Shruti, established in Brahman1 who personally sacrifice to the Ekarshi2 with faith, to them alone should this brahmavidya be taught after duly performing the shirovrata.[3] (3.2.10)

1 If they are already established in Brahman why would they need to learn brahmavidya? Shankaracharya explains that they are aparasminbrahmaNyabhiyuktAH parabrahma bubhu savaH "devoted to the lower [i.e. saguna] Brahman who wish to know the higher [i.e. nirguNa] Brahman."

2 Ekarshi is a name of Agni and this is a specific kind of agnihotra.

[3] A discussion of this shirovrata takes place in brahmasUtra 3.3.3. It is said that this vrata is described in a vedA~nga of the atharva shAkha called samAchAra smR^iti. I think it is no longer extent. (The atharvavedic tradition is rather weak.)

the next verse goes on to say in part


"one who has not performed the vrata does not read this [upanishad]."

Which seems pretty clear cut. However going back to the brahmasUtra, the siddhAnta is that the admonition is only for those atharvavedis who are formally learning the vedic text as part of their svAdhyaya. But those who are studying it for its vedantic content only need not abide by such strictures because the vidya taught here is the same as that taught elsewhere without strictures.

In another discussion, the following was mentioned:

According to my opinion the mention of these two are qualification for upadesha of mundaka upanishad. These qualification includes 1) person should have installed smārta agni 2) have performed shiro vrata during bramhacharya. If he has not performed it he should perform it before upadesha for qualification.

Your assumption is true the shiro vrata includes shaving of head and then guru imparts diksha but not any reference of agni on head is there in actual vidhi.


From Discourses on Mundakopanishad by Swami Chinmayananda:

Shirovrata (a vow of carrying fire on the head) Shirovrata - He who has performed the observance mentioned in the Atharva Veda, the chief feature of which is the carrying of a bowl of fire on the head. A local Pandita in one of his endless anonymous letters to me during the Yagna has argued that I have no right to teach the Mundakopanishad unless the students are ready to carry pots of fire on their head!

Certainly, the Pandita who wrote the letter must have had a heavy pot of fire on his head to write such vulgar stupidity with his dark ink of bottles wisdom!!

Too literal a translation has brought about such fantastic interpretations, ridiculous and laughable, not only into Hinduism but into almost all the religious literature of the world today. A true and discriminate understanding of this expression could never be that one should learn, and of all things the most difficult science of sciences, the Brahma-vidya, with a pot of fire on one's head!! This prescription can be given out only by an illiterate, who knows not what it is to learn and master a science.

This, in fact, can only be a figurative expression to explain that a student of the Upanishads must have a burning desire to intellectually grasp the meaning of the panorama of life. Only an intellect that is on fire, demanding to know immediately a way out or an escape from the realized limitations of life, that can ever hope to understand and live the divine values of the inner life as advocated in the Upanishads. It is this intellectual quest, this intellect on fire, that is meant here as a qualification for a true student of the Mundakopanishad. All other explanations are only ugly misrepresentations of the spirit of the shastra.

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