Śrī Rudram is considered as the heart of Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda, because Śrī Rudram occupies the central part of Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda. Out of entire Śrī Rudram, नमःशिवाय (namaḥśivāya), the Pañcākṣara mantra occupies the central point. Śrī Rudram is also known as Rudra Upaniṣad. It is called so because, recitation of Śrī Rudram removes our vāsanā-s (the impression of anything remaining unconsciously in the mind, the present consciousness of past perceptions), by imparting higher spiritual knowledge like Upaniṣad-s. It is also said that gods are satiated if Śrī Rudram is chanted and hence it is also called Śatarudrīya, which means extolling one hundred ways of glorifying Rudra. If a tree is watered regularly, it grows with huge foliage. Similarly, if Śrī Rudram is chanted, all gods are pleased. Further, recitation of Śrī Rudram is considered as a remedy for all types of sins. References are available in certain Upaniṣad-s about Śrī Rudram.
Śrī Rudram is an exclusive gift of Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda and only selected verses are found in Rig Veda. It is also known as “namakam” as it contains number of नमः namaḥ. There are 11 stanzas (anuvāka – division or subdivision of Vedas) in Śrī Rudram. These anuvāka-s are arranged in an order. In the first anuvāka is a prayer to an angry Rudra. Rudra is upset with those who did not obey His orders and in order to calm Him, prayers are offered to Him. Rudra becomes angry when adharma prevails over dharma. Anuvāka-s 2 to 9 praise Him with His glories. Most of the नमः namaḥ are used in these 8 anuvāka-s. In anuvāka 10, prayers are again offered to Him for material prosperity and spiritual upliftment. In anuvāka 11, prayers are offered to attendants of Rudra known as Rudragaṇa-s. There is 12th anuvāka, which is considered as part of 11th anuvāka.
Śrī Rudram is often chanted with Camakam, because entire benefit of Śrī Rudram is derived only if it is chanted with Camakam. There are five types of Śrī Rudra pārāyaṇa.
1. One recitation of Śrī Rudram followed by one recitation of 11 stanzas of Camakam (here also, 11th anuvāka has extension). This is called ordinary or general recitation.
2. One recitation of Śrī Rudram (all the 11 anuvāka-s) followed by first anuvāka of Camakam, again full recitation of Śrī Rudram followed by second anuvāka Camakam and so on. Thus, there will be 11 repetitions of Śrī Rudram. This is known as rudraikādaśinī (रुद्रैकादशिनी).
3. If rudraikādaśinī is done 11 times, it is known as laghurudram.
4. If laghurudram is done 11 times, it is known as mahārudram.
5. If mahārudram is done 11 times (14,641 times), it is known as athirudram.
Why Rudra attains such an important place in Vedas? There are differences between Purāṇic Shiva and Vedic Rudra. Veda adores Rudra as “Mighty one of Heaven” He supplies force for our very existence. He does not like evil forces and sinners. Even Vedic sages and saints were afraid of Him as He at any cost upholds dharma. Maruts (storm gods referred in Vedas) are children of Rudra and they, in association with Agni (fire god) help us move forward in our quest of realising Brahman. In our spiritual quest, Rudra destroys all defects both in our outward and inward life. He is not only the destroyer of evil, but also heals. Such is the importance of Rudra. It is important that we understand His Glories as His Glories are beyond any logical explanation. For example, Śrī Rudram says that Rudra is a thief and lord of thieves, etc.
Honest attempt will be made in this series to interpret every verse of Śrī Rudram, though it is a difficult job.