VEDIC PRAYER MANTRAS SEEKING IMMORTALITY
The Vedic and Upanishadic seers and poets alike pictured a state of affairs where the Light was hidden and Darkness prevailed, where Death swept across and Immortality was covered over and where the Unreal held the Real in captivity.
The famous Upanishadic prayer illustrates the above: "--Asatoe maa sadgamaya tamsoe maa jyotirgamaya, mrityoermaa amritum gamaya"—Lead me from Unreal to the Real, from Darkness to Light and from Death to Immortality.
Our sages were plagued by the fear of death also realized death is inescapable but disease could be prevented and well cured. The outcome was elaborate research on Yoga and Ayurveda. However their spiritual endeavor was deathlessness or continuity of existence.
Though we all are familiar with the famous mantra as appealing to Lord Siva and its meaning it carries another set of meaning in the above context: "Trayambakam yajaamahe sugandhim pushtivardhanam | Urvaarukamiva mrityoer moeksheeya maamrutaat || We conduct Yajnas (sacrifices) to Trayambaka, the fragrant one and Promoter of Prosperity. Like the gourd frees from its vine, may I be free from death, but not from immortality.
[Trayambakam= three eyes or sources of enlightenment are the Trimurtis, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. It could also mean Three mothers, Sarasvati, Lakshmi and Gowri; Yajaamahe= we sing the praise: sugandhim=fragrance of knowledge, and strength; Pushtivardhanam=Poosham refers to Him as the sustainer of this world—he is the father of all; Urvaarukamiva (Urva=vishaal, big and powerful, deadly; arukam=disease)==deadly and overpowering diseases, ignorance, falsehood and weakness; Together with Bandhanaa it would mean, I am bound down by deadly and overpowering diseases; mrityoer moksheeya=deliver from death in this physical world and the never ending cycle of birth for the sake of Moksheeya meaning emancipation from rebirth; Maamritaat=please give me some nectar. (We are praying for some nectar to get out of death inflecting diseases as well as the cycle of rebirth)]
The complete meaning then could be: We sing Thy praise as responsible for Creation, Preservation and Destruction (Brahma, Vishnu and Siva) and as Primordial Energies in the form of Knowledge, Wealth and Happiness (Sarasvati, Lakshmi and Gowri). We are praying for the life rejuvenating nectar to get out of death inflicting diseases as well as the cycle of rebirth and death.
The above meaning is more universal and in-keeping with the anxiety of our Seers. It may not be out of place to mention here the specific meaning with which we are all familiar with this Mantra is from Sri Rudram. This Mantra however is dedicated to Rudra Trayambaka (literally having three mothers), also known as Mrityunjaya "defeating death". It is appended to a hymn otherwise addressed to the Maruts. This Mantra recurs at many places and is very popular: Vaajasaneyi Samhita, Taittareeya Samhita, Satapata Braahmana, Taittareeya Braahmana and other Krishna Yajurveda Samhitaas. Sri Rudram has been made specific to Siva by the followers of Siva.
The regular meaning of the above famous mantra is as follows: "We worship the One who has fragrance and who nourishes health. Please release us from death like the water-melon that gets released from its creeper and not from immortality". [When a water-melon becomes ripe, without any external intervention, the fruit stands apart getting its release from the creeper.]
"Trayambakam" means on who has three eyes. Surya, Chandra and Agni are visualized as the eyes of the Supreme Being. Supreme Being is the eye of the eyes. He is the one who knew about the past, knows about the present and will know about the future—Trikaala Jnyaani-one who has the sight of three-fold knowledge. Ambaka also means father. He is the one responsible for the creation of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva and so can be called as their father. Trayambaka may also mean three Devis (ambas)—Mahalaksmi, Mahaaj kaali and Mahaasarasvati.
"Pushtivardhanam" means one who sustains everything. Pushti means nourishment. Mother earth is also called Poosan as she is the one who provides the nourishment inspired by the Supreme Being.
We salute such a great Lord.
[This famous Mantra appears in the Andhra version of Mahhaa Naaraayana Upanishad and is contained in Mantrapushpam published by Ramakrihana Math, Khar, Mumbai]