In this excerpt from the Manava Shrauta Sutras, a text associated with the Yajur Veda, a certain ritual for worshiping Shiva is described. As part of this ritual, the five-headed form of Shiva is supposed to be worshipped. For those who don't know, the five heads of Shiva are known as Sadyojata, Vamadeva, Aghora, Tatpurusha and Ishana, and according to the Shaiva Agamas they correspond to the five gods Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra, Maheshwara, and Sadashiva.

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But the Manava Shrauta Sutras describe the five heads slightly differently:

With the following five verses the invitation of Rudra is performed. With the verse: "Newly born etc." ... [Sadyojata] is the seer, Brahma[] his deity, the trishtubh his metre, the swan his riding animal, his face westward, the earth his element[.]... With the verse: "Wealth today, O Savitr, etc." ... Vamadeva is his seer, Vishnu his deity, the trishtubh his metre, Garuda his riding animal, his face northward, the water his element[.]... With the verse: "Homage to Rudra..." [Aghora] is his sage, Rudra his deity, the brihati his metre, the bull his riding animal, his face Southward, the heat his element[.]... With the verse "We worship the primeval spirit..." [Tatpurusha] is his seer, Surya his deity, the gayatri his metre, the horse his riding animal, his face eastward, the wind his element[.] With the verse "Him who rules" ... [Ishana] is his seer, sound his deity, the brihati his metre, the tortoise his riding animal, his face upward, the ether his element[.]

As expected, Sadyojata, Vamadeva, and Aghora are said to correspond to Brahma, Vishnu, and Rudra. Tatpurusha, on the other hand, is associated here with Surya the sun god, not with Maheshwara. But I'm interested in the fifth figure mentioned. My question is, who is the deity that Ishana is said to correspond to, the one referred to as Sabda or "sound" who rides on a tortoise?

Is the word "Sabda" used in the sense of Sabda Brahman, a concept found in Kashmiri Shaivism according to which vibrations of sound are equated with the supreme Brahman? In any case, as I mentioned above, according to the Shaiva Agamas Ishana corresponds to Sadashiva, although considering that there was a difference in the Tatpurusha case that's not a guarantee.

Are there any scriptures that describe Sadashiva as having a tortoise as his Vahana? If so, what is the reason for that?

  • 1
    I think by tortoise some symbolic meaning also is to be found. Like the tortoise Kurma (Bhagavan) is the base of the earth as well as Mandarachala in Samudra Mathana. Here Ishana is the deity of Ether, which is one element that is static, much like the steady Kurma.
    – Surya
    Commented Dec 28, 2015 at 12:07
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    @Surya Well, by that argument you could say the Vahanas of all the gods are symbolic. I think Hindu scripture literally describes things the way they are. But in any case, regardless I want to know who it is whose Vahana is being described as a turtle. It wouldn't be Ishana; look at the other cases. For instance, Garuda isn't the Vahana of Vamadeva, he's the Vahana of Vishnu who corresponds to Vamadeva. So in this case, the turtle wouldn't be the Vahana of Ishana, it would be the Vahana of whatever deity ("sound") Ishana corresponds to. I think it's probably Sadashiva, but I'm not sure. Commented Dec 28, 2015 at 12:33
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    But they could be literal as well as symbolic. As for the tortoise, the closest deity is Varuna. But he doesn't match the ether aspect.
    – Surya
    Commented Dec 28, 2015 at 12:36
  • @Surya Yeah, both Varuna and Yamuna ride on tortoises, but I doubt Shaivites would ever equate either of them to Ishana, or give them the appellation "sound". Commented Dec 28, 2015 at 12:38
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    Tatpurush associated with Sun and Maheshwara... I think as Maheshwara remains as witness of Atman... ie. It is Atma Tatwa... similarly sun is also connected with Atman (Atman tatwa) as Moon is connected with Mind tatwa... I think it is referring to it....
    – Tezz
    Commented Jun 23, 2016 at 10:44

1 Answer 1


It appears, the above invocation for ritual, was adopted from the mantras of Rig Vedic hymn V.47 - dedicated to Viśvedevas, which are as follows:

1.URGING to toil and making proclamation, seeking Heaven's Daughter comes the Mighty Mother: She comes, the youthful Hymn, unto the Fathers, inviting to her home and loudly calling.

2 Swift in their motion, hasting to their duty, reaching the central point of life immortal, On every side about the earth and heaven go forth the spacious paths without a limit.

3 Steer, Sea, Red Bird with strong wings, he hath entered the dwelling-place of the Primeval Father. A gay-hued Stone set in the midst of heaven, he hath gone forth and guards mid-air's two limits.

We have to remember that Rig Veda describes deep spiritual aspects in esoteric manner.

It was mentioned in the material made available at the link, that "A brahmin shall meditate correctly on the three-eyed, five-faced, ten-armed,..., bearing half-of the body of Uma,..".

The Mighty mother and Primeval Father from Rig Vedic mantras, were suitably adopted to Uma and Sadasiva (arthanArIswara).

A tortoise is supposed to be the longest living animal and noted for its perseverance. In spiritual line, perseverance plays vital role. Thus, Isana might have been mentioned, esoterically, as travelling on tortoise.

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