Vibhuthi is sacred ash used as identification to the power of God or the mystical and supreme spiritual power of nature. It itself means something that is great, abundant, powerful, mighty, and of great honor.
Vibhuthi in literal terms
Vibhuthi comes from the word ‘Vibhu’ which means eternal, supreme, soul, Lord of all. In simpler terms, Vibhu means god-like. Vibhuthi is essentially a reference to the supreme power, presence, and manifestation of God.
‘Vi’ means separated or discriminated and ‘Bhuthi’ means existence, birth, or worldliness. Thus, Vibhuthi means that which is separated from existence. Moreover, Bhuthi is derived from the word ‘Bhutha’ which means a being or an eternal body. Hence, Vibhuthi is that which is eternal even after the end of a body, after its cremation and its liberation.
Vibhuthi for the worshipers
Wearing the ash on our body and walking around with it in the public may seem odd and superstitious to most but the followers take it as a symbol of their surrender and devotion towards the divine. They mark the ash on their body and even on their forehead, not only in private but also in public and their workplace. In the West, where the Hindus are a minority, even there the devotees wear it without any discomfort. It is simply pride and honor for the followers to wear and show their devotion to the great almighty, Shiva.
It looks mysterious and supernatural to wear Vibhuthi. Conversely, it may seem to have many scientific and practical purposes known by the ones who believe in and uses it. Most devotees of Shiva live in the remote mountains, Himalayas, and forests. Such regions are vulnerable to colds, infections, insect bites, and snake bites. Due to this, a common human faces different health problems. However, it is believed that wearing Vibhuthi on a naked body protects the body from colds, infections, and snake and insect bites as well.
In fact, humans have Vibhu in them as they have a soul, due to which humans are an aspect of God. They have the ability to possess these powers of the almighty but the manifestation of ego (Anu) doesn’t let the humans achieve their potential. Along with Attachments (pasas), Delusion (moha), and Egoism (Avana) that comes ego is one of the three impurities, which attach beings to the mortal world. Therefore to gain liberation from the materialistic world and manifest into the power of God, we need to be detached from Anubhuti (ego power), the experience and the joy of the ego.
Vibhuthi, a Symbol of Sacredness
Vibhuthi is ash that carries high importance in Hindu Dharma and for the followers of Shiva. It is a symbol of purity, impurity, impermanence, cure, protection, sacrifice and absorption of power. It comes from the cremation of bodies, the residue, burning cow dung and offerings made to the sacrificial fire. The devotees use sacred ash for different purposes.
- It is a symbol of Lord Shiva who is detached and abandonment
- Offering in different sacrificial offerings to worship Lord Shiva
- As marks on the body
- To prevent the dissipation of spiritual energy from the body
- For healing, as a medicine
- As a shield from negative powers
- As a mystic substance to delude, charm, exorcise or frighten in left-hand methods
- For purification
- To mark the value of materialism and its impermanence
Vibhuthi and its relation to Lord Shiva
Every end ensures a new beginning and Lord Shiva is the lord of that transformation and destruction. His third eye is the eye of omnipotence and knowledge which has the power to reduce everything into ashes. Everything has an end, and when the time comes, he reduces everything to ashes. Legend says Shiva had even turned Lord Bramha, Lord Vishnu, and all the worlds into ashes. He then rubbed the ash on his body as a symbol of supreme power and lordship.
The symbolism of ash also means Shiva’s anger is transformative and not just destructive. He destroys the impurities in objects into ashes and makes them pure and shining. Just as in the case of retas, or an ash-wearing ascetic, who he burns it into a life of suffering to turn the focus away from materialistic pleasures and focus on liberation.
Everything in life and existence eventually turns and ends by burning into ashes. Only the burnt remains of our actions (karma), desires, and latent impressions (samskaras) can be taken with us, else nothing remains. As the remains of our previous life, we carry them into the new life. Wearing the ash is also a reminder of this ultimate truth of mortal life, which can positively cultivate the act of detachment and make us live more responsibly without burning in the fire of lust and desires.
The celibates and the repudiators wear the sacred ash as a symbol of renunciation, dispassion, detachment, and devotion to Lord Shiva. They apply the sacred ashes on their naked body as a symbol that the person has renounced all their attachment to his name and form and the convergence of their body is reborn as such of a consumed or cremated body in the fire of spirituality and renouncement.
Vibhuti is symbolized in the legend of Shiva, as an ascetic god, as the residual power of sexual energy. According to the scriptures, Vibhuthi represents Tejas, which is the burnt remains of the sem*n in the sacrifice of lust. When the sem*n (retas) is controlled and sublimated through celibacy and intense austerity (tapah) it is converted into vigor (tejas) in the body and brilliance (ojas) in the mind. They are similar to the ash formed from the burning of sexual desire and that vigor gives the body a radiant aura and sublime beauty.
For Shiva’s followers, Vibhuthi also symbolizes the residual power of sexual energy (retas). The ash is generated through celibacy and burnt in the heat of intense austerities (tapas). It is said that Shiva burnt Manmadha, the deluding god of love and lust, into ashes by opening his third eye. With Kumara’s birth, is it said that the sem*n (retas) of Shiva itself was the residue of a great austerity (tapah). Being so hot, even the god of Agni could not carry it for very long.
The important fluids in the body are transformed into seminal energy after burning into ashes through combustion by a special group of shining deities called Bhrigus, meaning cracks of fire. Shiva is the Lord of Bhrigus, who presides over the entire process of the body. In the Rigveda Samhita (1.58.2), it is stated that the discovery of fire, the creation of fire, and its knowledge was spread by a race of special beings called Bhrigus.
Eight Types of Vibhuthi
Vibhuthi is a symbol of God, who has the power to create, manifest, maintain, and even destroy for a new beginning. The power that manifests in nature, in humans, in creation, and in divinity itself is said to be of eight different kinds. What comes after Vibhuthi is Vibhathi. Vibhathi means the light, vigor, or the epitome of greatness or the aura of perfection.
The eight powers of Vibhuthis are as follows. (These are known as Ashta Siddhis)
- Animan- The power to become small
- Prapti- The power to gain, acquire
- Prakamyam- The power to manifest will and fulfill desires
- Laghiman- The power to become excessively lightweight
- Ishitha- The power to exercise or wield lordship, great authority, and command
- Vasitha- The power to bewitch, mesmerize, delude
- Mahiman- The power to become majestic or grow in strength and size
- Kamavasiyatha- The power to suppress desires or to control
We are born from the ashes and we perish into ashes. Hindus believe the fire to be pure and anything that touches fire becomes pure as well. It is why Hindus do not bury their beloved ones who die but are cremates to purify them. The impurities of the past lives may be there temporarily after cremation but eventually, what remains is only the soul, vibhuti, which is eternally pure.