Rudra is an ancient god of storms and of the winds in early Hinduism. Rudra is given many names, and is generally viewed as a terrifying god, as befits his status of storm god. He is known as the Terrible, as the Howler, and as the Wild One. Although in early Hinduism Rudra was an independent deity, in later Hinduism the god became synonymous with a form of Shiva.
The early Rudra was viewed as a foul god, the very embodiment of nature in its wildest, most uncivilized form. He was viewed as the god of death in the early Hindu cycles as well, shooting arrows that caused sickness and plague at humans and gods alike. Rudra is associated with hunting and the bow from this early time on, and as he evolved he would become the god of the hunt.
Rudra is said to have sired the Maruts on the goddess Miti. Wishing to have a son as powerful as Indra, the king of the gods, Miti vowed to keep her pregnancy for a hundred years, letting the child become more and more powerful. Indra learned of this and decided to put an end to it. In one version of the myth he throws his thunderbolt at Miti’s womb, and it breaks open and spills out the Maruts. In another version of the myth Indra travels into Miti’s womb and chops the baby into many different pieces, but they are each so powerful that they reform into individual Maruts.
The different myths place the number of Maruts at anywhere from a handful to upwards of sixty. Rudra’s sons went on to become the minor gods of the storms, and it was their action that caused the worst destruction of a storm. The Maruts were seen as the force that knocked trees down during the worst storms, that caused avalanches, and the force behind the winds themselves.
Rudra is a complex figure, with two very different sides presented in various myths. On the one hand, he was the most feared of the gods, and often was classified with the demons of the world rather than the gods, because he was the god that killed. On the other hand, he was sometimes praised as a healer, a beautiful singer, and a generous god, giving gifts to people, gods, and animals alike. He was the giver of disease, but also the god who cured illness. In many ways, Rudra was viewed with the same cowering respect as the wild side of the natural world. When he was benevolent, he was good and kind, but at a moment’s notice he could turn foul and angry, and often did so with no seeming provocation.
As Hinduism developed, the darker sides of Rudra diminished more and more, and he became viewed as a benevolent god. Eventually he was no longer viewed as a separate deity at all, and the name Rudra became used to describe the aspect of Shiva who lorded over the animals and presided over the winds.