Ishana (Sanskrit: ईशान, IAST: Īśāna), is a deity in Indian culture. He is often considered to be one of the forms of the Hindu god Shiva and is also often counted among the eleven Rudras. In Hinduism, some schools of Buddhism and Jainism he is the dikpala of the northeast direction. In Vastu Shastra, the north-eastern corner of a plot of land is referred to as “Ishana”. Ishana also shares qualities with Samhara Bhairava and is therefore a part of the Ashta Bhairava.
In the Vedas
- ईशानस्सर्वविद्यानां ईश्वरस्सर्वभूतानां ब्रह्मािधिपतिर्ब्रह्मणोऽधिपतिर्ब्रह्माशिवो मे अस्तु सदाशिवोम्।
- īśānassarva vidyānām īśvaras sarva bhūtānām brahmādhipatir brahmaṇo’dhipatir brahmā śivo me astu sadāśivom
Translation by Sabharathnam Sivacharyar:
- “Lord Ishana—the Supreme Lord and Revealer of all knowledge and spiritual disciplines, the nourisher and controller of all living beings, the Directing Lord of Sadasiva, He who is the guiding and directing authority for the eight Vidyeshvaras, who directs Brahma, Vishnu and others—may He present Himself in this Sivalinga. By such benign presence, let there occur absolute purity and auspiciousness in me. Om”
Ishana is also mentioned in the Vajasneyi Madyandina Samhita of the Shukla Yajurveda (VS 27.35), which the Shiva Purana calls the “Ishana Mantra”, though the Purana calls a different verse from the same Samhita which also mentions Ishana (VS 39.8) the “Ishana Mantra” as well.
In the Puranas
Several Puranas mention Ishana; a few of them are detailed here:
The Shiva Purana
In the Shiva Purana, Ishana is described as a form or aspect of Shiva. The Purana states that Ishana bestows knowledge and riches on those with intelligence, while curbing evil-doers. Ishana is declared to be the form of Shiva presiding over the ear, speech, sound and ether as well as the “individual soul, the enjoyer of Prakriti“.
The Linga Purana
One verse of the Linga Purana describes Ishana as “the omnipresent lord of all”. In another verse, one who makes the idol of Ishana is said to be “honoured in the world of Vishnu.” In one verse, he is said to hold an axe while in another, he is described as wielding a trident. Ishana described as being stationed in every being as the organ of speech.
The Brahmavaivarta Purana
The Brahmavaivarta Purana states that Ishana was born out of the left eye of Lord Krishna. He is described as wearing tiger’s skin, adorned with a crescent crown on his head, possessing three eyes and holding a trident, patissa (sword) and club. He became the leader of the Dikpalas.
As one of the Pañchabrahmas
The Pañchabrahmas are five specific aspects of Shiva collectively taken together. These aspects include Sadyojata, Vamadeva, Aghora, Tatpurusha, and Ishana. Each of these aspects are glorified in their own mantra in the Pañchabrahma Mantrani present in the Taittiriya Aranyaka (TA 10.17-21).
These aspects of Shiva are often depicted in five-faced Lingams which Stella Kramrisch states are physical equivalents of the five Pañchabrahma Mantrani, with each face of the five-faced lingams corresponding to one of the Mantras and representing a particular manifestation of Shiva.
As one of the Panchabrahmas, Ishana is the source of spontaneous grace directed to all beings and to all worlds.
In Vastu Shastra
According to Vaastu Shastra, it is auspicious for homes and offices to be situated in the northeast. North is the direction wealth resides, associated with Kubera, while East is the direction where knowledge resides, associated with Indra. For this reason, Ishana symbolizes the culmination of both knowledge and wealth.
Ishana is described as having three eyes, a tranquil appearance and white complexion, dressed with a white cloth and a tiger’s skin. On his head, a jata-makuta which has on top of it the crescent moon must be placed.
If he is represented with only two arms, his hands must carry a trident and a kapala or one of the hands (the left one generally) might be in the varadamudra; if, however, he has four hands, the two front ones should be sculptured as playing upon a veena and the others are to be held in the varada and abhaya mudras. Gopinatha Rao suggests that description might be incorrect, as the veena must be held only by the hands of the front pair of arms, which are also the very hands that are necessarily to be in the varada and abhaya poses.
When represented in Lingam form along with the other Panchabrahmas, his face, uncarved, would face upward.
One verse of the Linga Purana describes Ishana as having three feet, seven hands, four horns and two heads while in one verse of the Shiva Purana, he is described as “resembling pure crystal”.
In Buddhism and Shinto
According to the Ainōshō, there is a theory that this deity is synonymous with Pāpīyas as well as the Shinto deity Izanagi. The Jinnō Shōtōki also states that there is a theory that the names of Japan’s primordial creator gods Izanagi and Izanami are the same as the Sanskrit names Īśāna and Īśānī.