The sage Upamanyu was one of the ṛgvedic ṛṣis and and one of the greatest devotees of Lord Śiva, to which Śiva bestowed the status of His son as a reward for his incomparable austerities and devotion. Upamanyu is considered the father (or ancestor) of the sage Aupamanyava, mentioned in the Vaṃṣa-Brāhmaṇa (1.18) of the Sama Veda. However, Upamanyu acquired his greatest fame due to the fact that he was the guru of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who initiated him into the worship of Śiva.
Among other things, to Upamanyu is attributed the authorship of 'Śiva-bhakti-vilāsa', the text of the South Indian tradition of Śaiva-Bhakti, which lists the names and biographies of all 63 Nayanmars.¹
The most famous stories related to Upamanyu are contained in 'Śiva-Mahāpurāṇa' (3.32) and 'Mahābhārata' (13.15-16). They are given below.
In the Krtayuga, there lived a hermit named Vyāghrapāda who had two sons. They were called Upamanyu and Dhaumya. Some learned men are of opinion that Upamanyu the son of Vyāghrapāda and Upamanyu the disciple of Ayodhadhaumya, were one and the same. Once Upamanyu visited another hermitage along with his father. He happened to drink the milk of the cow there. After that they returned to their own hermitage, Upamanyu went to his mother and asked her to make milk pudding for him. But the mother felt very sorry because there was no milk. At last she mixed flour in water and made pudding and gave it to him. Upamanyu did not accept it. His mother told him that there was no way to get milk and that men could get wealth, crops etc. only by the grace of Śiva. Upamanyu who was of a wilful nature did penance with meditation and contemplation on Śiva. Finally Śiva appeared before him in the shape of Indra and told him to ask for his boon. Upamanyu boldly replied that he wanted no boon from anybody else except Śiva. Śiva made his appearance in his own form and made Upamanyu a deva (God).
«The incarnation of Śiva named Sureśvara²»
'Śiva-Mahāpurāṇa', 'Śatarudra-saṃhitā', ch. XXXII
Once Dhaumya (the guru) asked his second disciple Upamanyu to tend the cows. He used to take care of the animals grazing in the woodsduring daytime and return home at dusk and prostrate before the guru. Looking at the plump and healthy body of Upamanyu the guru asked him how he was feeding himself. His reply was that he was begging alms and feeding himself with what he got thus. Then the guru asked him to hand over to him (guru) all alms got in future. After that he used to give everything he got by way of alms to the guru. And, he continued returning to the Gurukula at dusk and prostrating before the guru. Finding Upamanyu even then as plump and healthy as he was formerly, the guru said: "My son Upamanyu, you hand over to me all the alms you get, and yet your body looks as trim as of old. How happens it so?" Upamanyu replied : "After giving the alms I get first to you, my guru, I do again beg for alms and feed myself". To this the guru reacted thus: "My boy, what you do is not the proper thing. By the second course of alms-taking you stand in the way of other people getting their food. It is gross injustice to do so."
Upamanyu, from that day onwards strictly followed his guru's instruction, and continued returning at dusk to the guru and doing obeisance to him.
Even then finding Upamanyu to be quite plump and healthy the guru told him: "Well, now you hand over to me all the alms you get, and you do not take alms a second time the same day. Yet you are quite fit and fat. How is it so?"
To this Upamanyu's reply was that he was feeding himself on the milk of the cows he tended. The guru told him that this too was not just and proper on his part. The guru had not permitted him to drink milk thus.
Upamanyu agreed to obey his orders. And, as usual he continued tending the cows and returning at dusk. Even then he maintained the same plump and healthy physique. And the Guru told him as follows : "You do not eat the food you get at the first alms- taking, you do not go in for alms a second time the same day, nor do you drink milk. Yet, how is it that you maintain the same fat and healthy physique as in former days?"
Upamanyu's reply was that he was feeding now-a-days on the foam of milk bristling at the mouth of the calves when they had fed on their mother's milk. And, the guru said: "if that is so the calves will be, out of kindness and sympathy for you, releasing much foam of milk out of their mouths. That will affect them. So, do not repeat the process. Since the guru forbade him to have food in any manner as detailed above, Upamanyu, while tending the herd of cows in the forest, ate the bitter and poisonous leaves of a tree one day to satisfy his burning hunger. The leaf was bitter in taste and injurious in its properties. Therefore, this new way of satisfying hunger affected the health of the eyes of Upamanyu and he became blind. Moving about in this condition he fell into a neglected well in the woods.
When, even after the sun had set, Upamanyu did not, as usual, return, the guru enquired about him from other disciples. Naturally, they told the guru that Upamanyu was out in the forest with the cows. As the guru felt that Upamanyu was staying away late in the forest since he had been prevented from doing everything he (guru) went to the forest accompanied by other disciples and called out for Upamanyu, and Upamanyu responded from deep down the well. He also told the guru how he happened to fall into the well. After telling him that if only he would pray to the Aśvinīdevas they will cure his blindness the guru returned to the Asrama with other disciples. Upamanyu, accordingly offered praises and prayed to the Aśvinīdevas, who were so pleased with him that they appeared before him and gave him a bread. Upamanyu refused to eat the bread without giving it to the guru. Then the Aśvinīdevas told him thus: "In the past when we gave your guru a bread like this he ate the same without giving it to his guru. You may just imitate him and eat the bread yourself". Even then Upamanyu did not eat the bread. The Aśvinīdevas were so much pleased at this that they blessed Upamanyu thus : "The teeth of your guru will turn into hard iron and yours into pure gold. Your blindness will be cured and all happiness and prosperity will be yours."
The blessings of the Aśvinīdevas took full effect, and Upamanyu hurried to his guru and prostrated at his feet. Dhaumya and the other disciples of his congratulated Upamanyu.
Guru of Śrī Kṛṣṇa
Upamanyu was dikshya guru of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. 'Mahābhārata' (Anushasan parva Book 13, chapters 15-16) tells that Kṛṣṇa perform severe penance for several months. Lord Śiva was pleased with his devotion and granted him boons.
'Devī Bhāgavatapurāṇa' states: Kṛṣṇa thus approached the Great Sage Upamanyu, who was not only an expert of Vedas but a noted devotee of Lord Mahādeva with extraordinary mystic powers to initiate and guide Kṛṣṇa in ascetic practice. Śrī Kṛṣṇa learnt from the Sage Upamanyu the Holy ‘Paśupati-mantra’.
Upamanyu gave to Kṛṣṇa a hymn of a thousand names of Śiva (Śiva-sahasranama-stotra, Anushasana-Parva), which he himself received from the sage Markandeya; he also taught Krishna how to pray to Śiva. Through the prayers to Śiva, Kṛṣṇa obtained a son, Samba. He had to pray for sixteen months before Śiva appeared to bless the birth of his son. Parvati then also bestowed several boons on Kṛṣṇa.
The pray of Upamahyu, adressed to Śiva
Two ślokas (65 - 66) from 32 ch. of 'Śatarudra Saṃhitā' of 'Śiva-Mahāpurāṇa' are a well-known prayer text addressed to Śiva, which often recites by devotees of Lord Śiva. It is usually recited at the end of the puja as a final pray:
प्रसीद देवदेवेश प्रसीद परमेश्वर ।
स्वभक्तिम्देहि परमां दिव्यामव्यभिचारिणीम् ॥
prasīda deva deveśa prasīda parameśvara
svabhaktim dehi paramāṃ divyām avyabhicāriṇīm
O lord of gods, be pleased. O supreme lord, be pleased. Grant me the greatest devotion unto you, divine and unswerving.
श्रद्धाम्देहि महादेव स्वसंबन्धिषु मे सदा ।
स्वदास्यं परमं स्नेहं स्वसान्निध्यं च सर्वदा ॥
śraddhām dehi mahādeva svasaṃbandhiṣu me sadā
svadāsyaṃ paramaṃ snehaṃ svasānnidhyaṃ ca sarvadā
O great god, give me great faith in persons devoted to you, the state of being your servant, your great affection and your constant presence.
1. The nayanmars or nayanars were South Indian śaiva saints, lived from the 3rd to 8th century AD. Many of them were characterized by extreme manifestations of their devotion. [↑]
2. Sureśvara means «lord of gods», i. e. Indra. [↑]