One of the minor upaniṣads of the Atharvaṇaveda group, Bhasmajābālopa-niṣad is in the form of a long conversation between the sage Jābāla-Bhusuṇḍi and Lord Śiva. It is in prose and consists of two chapters.

The sage Jābāla approaches Lord Śiva with great reverence and inquires of him thus:

  1. Please teach me all about bhasma (holy ash) including the mode of wearing the tripuṇḍra (religious mark of three lines drawn on the forehead) by which mokṣa or liberation can be easily obtained.
  2. Kindly enlighten me about the daily duties of a brāhmaṇa in detail.

The reply given by the Lord Śiva may be summarised as follows:

Before sunrise, fresh cowdung is to be collected on a palāśa leaf (Butea frondos), dried and then reduced to ashes in the gṛhya fire duly established, using materials like sesame or paddy soaked in ghee, which should be offered into the fire with appropriate mantras like tryambakaṁ yajāmahe and somāya svāhā. The ashes, after being consecrated through the Gāyatrī-mantra, should be collected in a pot made of gold or silver or even mud. Taking some of it in the palm of the left hand, it should be applied on all parts of the body like the head, forehead, ears, neck, arms, chest and navel, repeating the mantras prescribed for each of the application.

In case the duly prepared bhasma is not available, the bhasma gathered from a cremation ground or any other place may be used after purifying it with appropriate mantras.

Applying the bhasma as prescribed is a sacred and compulsory duty for a brāhmaṇa. If he fails to do so he incurs sin which has to be expiated by the repetition of the Gāyatrī-mantra, while standing in water and fasting. However, if he does it as prescribed, he will be freed from all sins, and obtains the fruits of pilgrimage to all the holy places as also a long life.

As for the daily duties of a brāhmaṇa the Lord Śiva gives a detailed procedure for bath, putting on clean washed clothes, anointing with bhasma and wearing rudrākṣa beads.

This is then followed by instructions for worshipping the Śivaliṅga (the emblem of Śiva). This has to be done thrice a day. Meditation on Lord Śiva’s form, bathing the liṅga with water as also the bhasma and worship with the bilva (Aegle marmelos) leaves, are its constituents.

Next, the Lord teaches the mantra of six letters (Oṁ namaś śivāya) and the mantra of eight letters (Oṁ namo mahā-devāya). These are called ‘tārakamantras’ since they help the human being to cross (tāraka = that which helps one to cross) the ocean of saṁsāra or transmigration.

Then comes a description of Śiva as Brahman, followed by the assertion that knowledge of Śiva-Rudra leads to mokṣa or liberation.

Lord Śiva is the support of the whole creation. He is the one who liberates the living beings from bondage. Those who are unable to realize this, should go to Kāśī and live there till death. Such votaries of Śiva who live in Kāśī should never swerve from the path of truth and never miss smearing bhasma on their bodies, wearing rudrākṣa beads and worshipping Him through the liṅga, which is ‘jyotirliṅga’ or ‘liṅga of light’. Such worship and meditation on him will confer results like freedom from sins, sorrows and sufferings. He will ultimately attain mukti or liberation. Failure to worship Lord Śiva at Kāśī thus, will entail sin which has to be expiated through bath, fasting and chanting of the Rudra (a section from the Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda).

Lord Śiva utters the tārakamantra (Oṁ namaśśivāya) into the ears of those dying at Kāśī, thus liberating them from saṁsāra or transmigration.

The upaniṣad concludes with a warning to those that live at Kāśī, but transgress the prescribed mode of living. But they too will be liberated after suffering and repentance.