Continuing our series of essays on Mahamritunjaya mantra, we now turn out attention to the line sughandhim pushtivardhanam. Here sugandhim means fragrant, or literally, good smell. Some commentators connect the word sugandhim with tryambak, i.e. it is the Lord who is fragrant, while others connect it with yaj, referring to the fragrance emanating from the sacrifice. In either case, gandha or smell brings us to the earth element and the muladhara (first) chakra. After starting the mantra at the ajna (third eye) and crown chakras, abode of Shiva ,we now move to muladhara, the abode of kundalini shakti. This chakra is also the home of Ganesha, whose long, curling trunk reminds us of his connexion both with the sense of smell and with the coiled serpent power. Sugandhim roots the mantra deep in our own body, the guttural sound of gandha drawing us into our core.
Pushtivardhanam is the increaser of nourishment .We can see in this line the fragrance of sacrifice which brings rain and thus food. We can also see Shiva, the inner Self, as sugandhim pushtivardhanam , the one who provides all our nourishment of body, mind and spirit. In the Lord’s Prayer in Christian tradition we first evoke the Heavenly Father and then sanctify his Name, that is the shekhina or immanent feminine aspect. In the same way, in this mantra we first call forth the transcendent Shiva and then evoke Shakti, the indwelling feminine aspect. And then, just as in the Lord’s Prayer we ask for our daily bread, we now call upon the divine gift of nourishment in the line pushtivardhanam. It is a moment of humility, recalling that all gifts, even life itself, come from the only giver. And humility, literally meaning nearness to earth, is the gift of the Earth element.
The increaser of nourishment is Lord Shiva, bestower of food security. Shiva’s connexion with deer recalls the time when we implored him to give us the knowledge of the deer, our source of food. Yet just as in the Shiva Puranas, the hunter who worships Shiva eventually gives up his hunting life, we became agrarian beings. And so, seeing Shiva as the rider on the bull, his mount Nandi, we realize that we depend upon him for the fertility of field and herds. Today, with genetically engineered terminator seeds and over-bred cattle languishing on feedlots, we are on the verge of losing the precious food security gained over millennia. One person in six alive today is going to bed hungry. Because we have made food a commodity instead of a sacred gift, because we rely upon agribusiness and not upon the Divine, our arrogance and greed are causing us to throw away heedlessly what we gained through long centuries of devotion and humility.
From a yogic standpoint, there is another meaning for sughandhim pushtivardhanam. Shiva, the three eyed Lord, our own true nature, nourishes us with bliss molecules, feeds our spirit with enlightenment. When we attain the state of tryambak, when our three channels are open and flowing, we receive the true nourishment, of which Jesus spoke when he said to his disciples, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.”
And as we realize our true nature we also become sughandhim pushtivardhanam—we ourselves become increasers of nourishment. From the miracle of feeding the five thousand to stories of Neem Karoli Baba told in Miracle of Love, there are numerous accounts of how enlightened beings could feed innumerable people with just a little food. On one occasion at Alandi Ashram we cooked for fifteen and thirty five people arrived. “Cover the pot and serve without looking in it,” I told my fellow server. We served everyone and had plenty left over. Generosity is a divine quality and manifests in feeding the hungry. We can also express the state of sughandhim pushtivardhanam by giving knowledge to feed minds, giving love to feed hearts and giving spiritual teachings to feed souls. As long as we remain humble understanding that everything comes from the Divine, we ourselves can actualize the state of fragrant increaser of nourishment for all beings.