Vibhuti (meaning glory) or Bhasma (that by which our sins are destroyed and the Lord is remembered) is the holy ash that Hindus apply over their forehead and body. The ash of any burnt object is not regarded as holy ash. This holy ash is created by burning cow dung along with milk, ghee, honey, etc. It is a principle sacrament in the worship of Lord Siva, representing His burning away of our ignorance to ashes.
Bhasma is generally applied on the forehead. Some apply it on certain parts of the body like the upper arms, chest etc. Some ascetics rub it all over the body. Many consume a pinch of it each time they receive it.
Literal meaning of bhasma
The Sanskrit word bhasma literally means “disintegration”. Bha means bharatsanam (to destroy), while sma implies smaran (to remember). Bhasama is thus a reminder to us of the ephemeral nature of life. Also,if we wish to unite with God ( or the ‘ supreme self’ ) and remember him constantly, our ego or ‘little self’ has first to be disintegrated or burnt to ashes. Bhasma is a symbol of this process. It is also called raksha because it protects one from all fears. When appled to the forehead before sleep, it is said to keep away evil spirits or ghosts, whether external or those which manifest fro the depths of the mind in the from of nightmares.
Bhasma symbolishes the burning of our false identification with the mortal body, and freedom from the limitations of the painfully illusive cycle of birth and death. It also reminds us of the perishable quality of the body, which will one day be reduced to mere ashes.
Homa (offering of oblations into the fire with sacred chants) signifies the offering or surrender of the ego and egocentric desires into the flame of knowledge or a noble and selfless cause. The consequent ash signifies the purity of the mind, which results from such actions.
Also the fire of knowledge burns the oblation and wood signifying ignorance and inertia respectively. The ash we apply indicates that we should burn false identification with the body and become free of the limitations of birth and death. This is not to be misconstrued as a morose reminder of death but as a powerful pointer towards the fact that time and tide wait for none.
The power of Bhasma :
Bhasma or Udi is also called “vibhooti”, because it gives spiritual power. The Sanskrit word, vibhooti means ‘glory’ , as it gives glory to one who applies it, protection from ill health and negative forces, and attracts the higher forces of nature. Another meaning of vibhooti is ‘healing power’, and it is widely used as a medicinal treatment in both ayurveda and Chinese and Tibetan medicine.
Vibhooti also means ‘dominion’, and is the subtle power lying behind creation, from which all things manifest. From vibhooti or bhasma , anything can be created by a tantric or aghora , because the potential of creation lies within it , and he ha penetrated the law and controlled the elements.
Maha yogi Shiva , father of tantra , is usually depicted naked in sadhana , his whole body coverd in bhasma. The first verse of the Shiva Panchakshara Stotram gives the following description; Nagendrahaarya trilochanaaya, bhasmaangaraaya maheshwaraaya . Nityaaya shuddhaaya digambarayya – ‘ Salutations to the mighty three eyed shiva, eternal and pure, wearing the king of snakes as his garland, naked and besmeared with sacred ash.’ Some other name given to Lord Shiva are Bhasmashrayaaya (abode of bhasma ) and Bhasmabhootaaya (covered with bhasma). Covering the body with ash is considered to be auspicious act for discovering one’s Shiva nature.
Vibhuthi should be taken with the right hand and applied on the forehead as three horizontal lines. The first line stands for removal of Ahankar (pride) the next stands for removal of Ignorance and the third stands for removal of bad karma (actions). The ash we apply indicates that we should burn false identification with the body and become free of the limitations of birth and death.
Sannyassins wear three lines of bhasma on the forehead. These three lines (tripundra) with a red dot of kumkum underneath , between the eyebrows,symbolize Shiva-Shakti, the unity of energy and matter that creates the entire seen and unseen universe. The lower line indicates tamoguna, the basic inertia and darkness, the middle line represents the rajas, activity and dynamism and the top line represents sattwa , balance and illumination. The red hot or tika indicates th power of Shakti through sadhana , which can take the sadhaka beyond the three gunas or qualitie to the state of turiya, the forth dimension of existence. This is the state of trigunnatita – beyond the gunas.
Bhasma has medicinal value and is used in many ayurvedic medicines. It absorbs excess moisture from the body and prevents colds and headaches. The Upanishads say that the famous Mrityunjaya mantra should be chanted whilst applying ash on the forehead.
Urvaa rukamiva bhandhanaan
Mrytyor muksheeyamaa amrutaat