Rudra is a form of Shiva and a well-known deity in Hindu Dharma. He is often associated with a mighty hurricane. Rudra literally means a tempest and is the term used by many as the other name of the entity Shiva, his most violent and furious form to be specific. He is one of the three celestial beings believed to have created the universe.
Hindu scriptures like Vishnu Purana, Matsya Purana and Bhagavad Gita use the word Rudra to coin the eleven forms of Shiva (Ekadasha-Rudras), brought to life to end the cruelty and tyranny of rakshasas on earth and heaven. Different scriptures have different origin stories of these Rudras.
Based on the narrative mentioned in one of such scriptures – Shiva Purana’s, Chapter 3 Shatrudra Samhita’s, Section 17 The Origin of the Eleven Rudras. Here is,
The origin of the Rudras according to Shiva Purana
Back in the days when Gods walked freely between the Heaven and the earth; when deities fought for justice and light, Indra, the god of thunder, ruled the deities in a city called Amrawati Puri. In one such battle, the rakshasas were able to defeat Indra and his army of gods and they forced Gods to flee from the city. The deities were full of fear and out of despair, they went to Maharishi Kashyap’s Ashram (a residence, also functioning as school). He happened to be the father of Indra.
In the meeting, the King of Gods, now dethroned, told the entire story to his father. Kashyap was furious at the deeds of the rakshasas. Maharishi was known for his supreme knowledge and his ability to meditate. Thus, He consoled the god and promised that he would find a solution to the problem.
Maharishi set off to Kashipuri with the motive to meditate and seek audience with the celestial entity Shiva himself. After reaching Kashipuri, he established a Shiva-Linga (a cylindrical shaped shrine representing Shiva) and started to meditate in its presence, by chanting his name. After meditating for quite some time, Shiva appeared in front of him. He seemed impressed by Kashyap’s meditation, and asked the Maharishi to make a wish.
Kashyap remembered the dire condition of the gods. He then told Shiva that the rakshasas had defeated the gods, and had taken over the city of Amrawati Puri. He asked Shiva to be born as his son, to offer the justice to the gods and take the place in the city as their protector. Shiva granted his wish by uttering the words, “Tathastu!” (So be it). In ecstasy, Kashyap showed his piety to the entity, and he disappeared.
Maharishi returned to his ashram, and explained the entire incident to the gods. They were pleased to hear everything. In time, Kashyap impregnated his wife, Surabhi, who then gave birth to 11 sons. These were the forms of the celestial entity Shiva, and were known as Rudras. With their birth, the entire world, including the gods, Kashyap and his wife were pleased.
The names of the 11 Rudras
These 11 forms of Shiva, meant for the protection of gods, were skilled in combat and warfare. They decimated the rakshasa and re-enthroned Indra as the rightful King of the Gods, and the city of Amrawati Puri. Ever since they were permanently positioned in the city to protect it from such rakshasas and aid the gods in their fight against the evil and darkness.
Rudras in other Scriptures
In Matsya Puran, the Rudras were the children of Kashyap and Surbhi, like Shiva Puran. However, different names for the Rudras have been used. The 11 Rudras as per this text are Nirriti, Shambhu, Aparajita, Mrigavyadha, Kapardi, Dahana, Khara, Ahirabradhya, Kapali, Pingala and Senani.
In Vishnu Purana, quite contradictorily, the Rudras aren’t associated with Shiva, but Brahma (one of the three celestial entities believed to have created the universe). They’re said to have been created out of the rage of Brahma. The names of the Rudras according to this scripture were Manyu, Manu, Mahmasa, Mahan, Siva, Rtudhvaja, Ugraretas, Bhava, Kama, Vamadeva and Dhrtavrata.
Like any other deity or characters from an epic or ancient story, there exists an ambiguity regarding the origin, names and the functions of these Rudras. However, it cannot be denied that they were fierce warriors forged to protect the Earth and the Gods and bring peace to the whole existence.