A Note on the Word त्र्यम्बक tryambaka

त्र्यम्बकं यजामहे सुगन्धिं पुष्टिवर्धनम्।

उर्वारुकमिव बन्धनान्मृत्योर्मुक्षीय माऽमृतात्॥

tryambakaṁ yajāmahe sugandhiṁ puṣṭivardhanam |

urvārukamiva bandhanānmṛtyormukṣīya mā’mṛtāt||

This Mantra appearing in Rigveda, 7.59.12 and Yajurveda 3.60 is known as महामृत्युञ्जमन्त्र-mahāmṛtyuñjayamantra. Vaishtha Maitravaruni is the Rishi of this Mantra in which Rudra is invoked as the deity. The repetition of this Mantra and meditating upon it has helped many people in getting rid of not just physical infirmities but from many other obstacles in life, both at the individual as well as collective level. Everyone who comes in contact with this Mantra with an open mind and with श्रद्धा śraddhā feels the purity and force of its vibration.

Roughly the Mantra means: “We adore you O Rudra, the three-eyed one! By contemplating on you, may we be liberated from our bondages and limitations, as a fragrant and nourishing melon gets instantly separated from its stem when ripe! But, we pray not to deprive us of or isolate us from immortality.”

The purpose of this small write up is not to give a detailed exposition of the entire Mantra but to explain the word त्र्यम्बक tryambaka, also pronounced as त्रियम्बक triyambaka. In the above Mantra, though the word is त्र्यम्बक tryambaka, but while reciting, it is pronounced as त्रियम्बक triyambaka. The reason is that the Mantra is in अनुष्टुभ् anuṣṭubh meter which is supposed to have eight syllables in each of its four lines. But here the first line has one syllable less. The same happens with the famous Gayatri Mantra of Vishvamitra also where the first line has seven syllables instead of eight. In such cases, as per the Vedic rules, adding suitable vowels help maintaining the metrical rhythm. So by adding the suitable vowel in between the combinations of ya, ra, la and va two syllables can be formed. For example — varṣam can become variṣam; vareṇyam can become vareṇiyam; tryambakam can become triyambakam; and tanve can become tanuve. This process is called vyūha and it occupies an important role in the Vedic metres which are made up of prescribed number of syllables. In the ऋक्प्रातिशाख्य ṛkprātiśākhya (xvii, 2, 22) of Shaunaka it is said that in a stanza, if there is shortage of syllables in a line, it may be compensated by uttering the vowels separately which are like ekākṣara in combination (vyūhedekākṣarī bhāvān pādeṣūneṣu sampade). That is the reason that we get both त्र्यम्बक tryambaka and त्रियम्बक triyambaka.

What is the meaning of the word त्र्यम्बक tryambaka in the above Mantra? Here are given various meanings of the word त्र्यम्बक tryambaka in the context of the mahāmṛtyuñjayamantra.

The word त्र्यम्बक tryambaka is composed of two components: त्रि tri meaning three and अम्बक ambaka meaning eye, protector, father, seer etc. The word अम्बक ambaka is derived from अम्ब amba which comes from the root-sound अम्ब् amb meaning ‘to go’, ‘to make sound’. Let’s look at the various meanings of अम्बक ambaka and अम्ब amba derived from the root-sound अम्ब् amb.

From the sense ‘to go or move’, the word अम्बक ambaka, derived from अम्ब् amb, can mean that which moves and that which has the power to make others move, the one who is capable, has strength, strength to protect oneself and others, so a protector.

अम्ब् amb also means to make sound. So, अम्बक ambaka can mean one who makes a sound and also one who hears a sound. The one who has the power to hear the inner sound, the voice of the truth is also अम्बक ambaka. Therefore it also means a Rishi who is सत्यश्रोता satyaśrotā or hearer of the truth.

A word derived from अम्ब् amb to make sound, can also mean the medium through which the sound travels. So we have the word अम्बर ambara meaning sky. As the sky gives the feel of a canopy, a cover, the word अम्बर ambara also means a cover, a cloth. The word अम्बु ambu, coming from अम्ब् amb, means water as it makes sound while it’s on move.

One can follow the sound and reach the source of the sound. This expresses the sense of sound as leader on the path or shower of the path. Through sound one can see. Further, all root-sounds meaning ‘to move or go’ (गत्यर्थक gatyarthaka) also refer to knowledge or ज्ञानjñāna (ज्ञानार्थक jñānārthaka) which implies the inner seeing. So अम्बक ambaka also means the seer, the eye.

When something moves, it moves from a source. So the source, destination, place can also be the meanings of अम्बक ambaka.

Based on this understanding let’s see the various meanings of the word त्र्यम्बक traymbaka in the context of the Mantra cited above.

1. त्रि-अम्बकम् — त्रयः अकारः ओकारः मकारः अम्बाः शब्दाः वाचका यस्य तं त्र्यम्बकम्

tri-ambakam trayaḥ akāraḥ okāraḥ makāraḥ ambāḥ śabdāḥ vācakā yasya taṁ tryambakam

To the one who is described by the three sounds a, u and m in OM. This we also see in Patanjali’s Yogasutra (1.27): तस्य वाचकः प्रणवः ॥ tasya vācakaḥ praṇavaḥ meaning OM is the sound that denotes HIM.

2. त्रयाणां लोकानां अम्बकं चक्षुःस्वरूपं त्र्यम्बकम्

trayāṇāṁ lokānāṁ ambakaṁ cakṣuḥsvarūpaṁ tryambakam

To the one who is the eye of the three worlds.

3. तिसृणाम् अवस्थानाम् — उत्पत्तिस्थिथिप्रलयानाम् अध्यक्षरूपेण द्रष्टारम् सर्वाध्यक्षम् त्रिनेत्रम्

tisṛṇām avasthānām — utpattisthithipralayānām adhyakṣarūpeṇa draṣṭāram sarvādhyakṣam trinetram

To the one who keeps his eyes open in all situations: creation, sustenance and destruction. To the one who is the adhyakṣa or overseer of everything.

4. त्रिलोक्याः पितरं मातरं च

trilokyāḥ pitaraṁ mātaraṁ ca

To the one who is the father as well as the mother of the three worlds.

ज्ञाननेत्रेण त्रिलोक्याः द्रष्टारं प्रकाशकं च

jñānanetreṇa trilokyāḥ draṣṭāraṁ prakāśakaṁ ca

5. To the one who envisions and manifests the three worlds by his eyes of jnana.

6. त्रिमूर्तेः पितरम्

trimūrteḥ pitaram

To the father of the trinity: brahma, vishnu and maheshvara.

7. वेदत्रय्युपदेष्टारम्

vedatrayyupadeṣṭāram

To the one who is the seer and the giver of the three Vedas. (ref. yasya niḥśvasitaṁ vedāḥ)

8. त्रिकालेऽपि त्रयाणां लोकानाम् अम्बास्वरूपं रक्षकम्

trikāle’pi trayāṇāṁ lokānām ambāsvarūpaṁ rakṣakam

To the one who as the mother of the three worlds protecting all worlds at all times: in past, present and future.

9. त्रिकालज्ञम्

trikālajñam

To the one who is the knower of the past, present and future.

10. त्रिसृभिः अम्बाभिः सच्चिदानन्दाख्यशक्तिभिः नित्यसंयुतं परमेश्वरम्

trisṛbhiḥ ambābhiḥ saccidānandākhyaśaktibhiḥ nityasaṁyutaṁ parameśvaram

To that Supreme who is eternally connected with the three primordial mother-powers of sat, chit and ananda.

11. त्रयाणां पुराणाम् अम्बकं स्वामिनम्

trayāṇāṁ purāṇām ambakaṁ svāminam

To the one who is the master of all the three worlds.

12. त्रीणि पृथिव्यन्तरिक्षद्युलोकाख्यानि अम्बकानि स्थानानि यस्य तम् त्र्यम्बकम्

trīṇi pṛthivyantarikṣadyulokākhyāni ambakāni sthānāni yasya tam tryambakam

To the one who inhabits the three worlds — the earth, mid-region and the heaven.

PS: I have tried in my own way to explain these twelve meanings of त्र्यम्बक traymbaka given by Pandit Jgannatha Vedalankara ji in his book ज्योतिषां ज्योतिः jyotiṣāṁ jyotiḥ.

Author, speaker and researcher on subjects related to Sanskrit, Indian Culture, Spirituality, Yoga and Education. SahityaAkademi and President of India Awardee.