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By Swami Harshananda

Muni literally means ‘one who is immersed in contemplation’.

Muni as per Ṛgveda

The word ‘muni’ is derived from the root-verb ‘man’.[1] Hence it means anyone who contemplates deeply on God and the higher values of life. The Ṛgved[2] calls munis as the sons of Vātaraśana who wear dirty clothes and are in ecstacy. Munis were befriended by Indra and other gods.[3][4] Great sages and ascetics were called munis. The lists of munis generally include Vasiṣṭha, his son Śakti and Parāśara.

Muni as per Sanskrit Grammar

In the tradition of Sanskrit grammar, the three great grammarians are generally called ‘munitraya’. They are:

  1. Pāṇini[5]
  2. Kātyāyana
  3. Patañjali[6]

Muni as per Scriptures

Some of the scriptures like the Harivanśa call certain persons as munis. For instance:

  • The teacher who gives dīkṣā,[7]
  • The teacher of the Vedas
  • An ascetic
  • An assembly of old ascetics
  • An acclaimed man of wisdom
  • Etc.

Muni as per Iconography

In iconographical works, images of munis are to be prepared according to the navatāla or the aṣtatāla system. They are generally shown standing and have two hands only in the poses of añjali[8] or as offering flowers or with japamālā.[9]

Belief Regarding Origin of Muni

The various munis are stated to have emerged out of the various parts of Brahmā’s body. For instance:


  1. Man means ‘to think’, ‘to contemplate’.
  2. Ṛgveda 10.136.2-3
  3. Ṛgveda 8.17.14
  4. Ṛgveda 10.136.4
  5. He lived in 400 B. C.
  6. He lived in 200 B. C.
  7. Dīkṣā means religious vows.
  8. Añjali means supplication.
  9. Japamālā means rosary.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore