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Tamasa Puranas: Additional Content Analysis

Dear all,

We have been reading the actual shlokas from shiva purANa, linga purANa, etc that describe the tAmasic incidents like lingOdbhava, Siva-pUja using vishNu's eye, etc. It is very amusing to see that if Shaivas were to claim these incidents as pramANa, then they have to accept the supremacy of Hari in some way. Because these purANAs, while trying to deny his supremacy, inadvertently reveal his supreme attributes here and there even in those incidents!

These purANAs are meant for people with aversion to the Supreme Lord nArAyaNa and thus contain stories contradictory to the Vedas. The stories are to be considered as “arthavAda” for glorification of a particular deity (like Shiva) for the sake of people inclined to such deities.
In that sense, these purANAs do have certain instances of sattva as follows:
  1. They contain certain statements such as the following which are perfectly vaidika and prove vishNu alone is supreme:

vaikunthE pare lOkE sriyA sArdhaM jagatpatiH |
astE viSnur acintyAtmA bhaktair bhAgavataiH saha||~ Linga purANa

Which says that shrI vaikuntha is the supreme abode where vishNu, along with his consorts who are nitya sUrIs themselves (shrI, bhU and nIla –mentioned in the AgamAs as well) are surrounded by “bhaktAs” and “bhAgavatAs”.

  1. General topics like etymology of names, etc is quite acceptable.
These two points were covered in the previous article. In this small write-up, we will show a third way  as to how these purANAs are useful.  This is something that has been mentioned by sri Vaishnava acharyas. We will address the tAmasic stories themselves.
The idea is that these purANAs, despite trying to elevate other deities over vishNu, nonetheless end up indicating the supremacy of Hari indirectly even in incidents which glorify Shiva and denigrate Hari. Thus, these episodes become indirect upabrahmaNAs for certain tattvas promoted by the shruti.
We will take up the two major stories of lingOdbhava and SivArAdhana for consideration.
As we all know, this story undisputedly aims to promote the supremacy of shiva over brahma and vishNu. Let us however, look at certain shlOkas embedded in this incident as described by the shiva purANa.
The story starts as a dialogue/argument between Brahma and Vishnu as to who is superior. The purANa quotes vishNu as saying the following:
matsthaṃ jagadidaṃ vatsa manuṣe tvaṃ hi coravat //
mannābhikamalājjātaḥ putrastvaṃ bhāṣase vṛthā // (Shiva Purana 1.6.7)
Vishnu: O Dear One (Brahma), the whole Universe is situated within me but your way of thinking is like that of a thief. You are born of the lotus from my navel. You are my son. Your words are futile therefore. (Ch 6.7)
Note: Vishnu labels Brahma a thief, for those who seek that which belongs to the Lord, namely, themselves and the objects of the Universe, as their own, are thieves. But even so, bhagavAn is “akruraH” and never openly derides another person like this, even if said person had ego. Remember he massaged the feet of Bhrigu who kicked him. This alone shows that this story did not happen, but is entirely tAmasic. Nonetheless, we can take whatever tattva doesn’t contradict shruti.
In this shloka, vishNu claims to be the controller of the Universe as it is situated in his navel. Keep that in mind for now.
Then Vishnu and Brahma fight. Upon which Shiva manifests in the form of a fiery Linga. Brahma and Vishnu take the guise of a swan and a boar to measure the top and bottom respectively.
Brahma is unable to reach the top of the Linga, but he utters a falsity that he has seen the top of the Linga. Hari takes it to be true and eulogizes Brahma. Then Shiva appears and speaks to him. Among the things he says, one of the statements below:
vatsaprasanno 'smi hare yatastvamīśatvamicchannapi satyavākyam //
brūyāstataste bhavitā janeṣu sāmyaṃ mayā satkṛtirapyalapthāḥ // (Shiva Purana 1.7.31)
(Siva says:) O Hari, I am pleased with you because despite your desire to be “Isa” or a Ruler, you are of true words. Hence among the general public you shall have a footing equal to mine. You will be honored too likewise (ie, everyone will worship you also in temples, etc).
Let us forget the supremacy of Shiva being claimed here, as it is a tAmasa purANa and thus will not do anything else. However, one must notice here that Shiva admits that Vishnu has adhered to the truth. What does this imply?
It implies that bhagavAn vishNu is of true words. So, that in turn means that what Vishnu said about the whole Universe situated in him earlier, is true, for he is not prone to lies. Which again  makes him the Supreme Lord, as he had declared himself to be so.
Shiva does say “despite your desire to be a Lord”, implying that Vishnu is not the highest. But this is not surprising as it is the nature of the story –it is tAmasa and thus seeks to degrade Vishnu. The point to note is that inadvertently, it has admitted the kalyANa guNa of bhagavAn – that he is established in Truth. Thus, even his desire to be an “ISa” is to be taken as rooted in Truth no matter what Shiva thinks! For it is not possible that someone is hailed as truthful and yet untruthfully claims himself as a Lord!
Even this purANa does not dare to paint bhagavAn in a bad light as a liar, although it refers to Brahma as untruthful. The tAmasa purANa even denigrates vishNu in a vile manner by using terminologies like “eunuch” and so on, but it does not deny his auspicious qualities like being of truthful speech. And if bhagavAn is not a liar, and is of true speech, then whatever he says and does is true. Which makes his declaration as the One in whom the Universe is stationed, as well as his desire to be a Lord of all, are all true!
In which case, the words of Shiva become an indirect supporting proof of the following ithihAsa shlOka:
Satye pratisthitah Krishnah satyam asmin pratihthitam |
Sattasatte ca govindah tasmat Satyah satam matah ||(~mahAbhArata Udyoga Parva 69.12)
Meaning: Lord Krishna is rooted in Satya, and the Truth (Satya) is rooted in Lord Krishna. The sentients and insentients are both established in Lord Govinda. Hence He is called ‘Satya’ or ‘Truth’. (These are the words of Sanjaya to Dhridarashtra on why Krishna is called Satya).
Thus, Shiva saying vishNu is “satyavAkyaM” is a simple admission of the Lord being rooted in Truth always, which makes his desire to be an “ISa” true and appropriate to his nature. This is the absurd self-contradiction of Lingodbhava in the Shiva Purana!
In elaborating the tale of Lingodbhava, this purANa begins with a description of the Lord prior to creation as follows:
ekārṇave mahāghore tamobhūte samantataḥ /
suṣvāpāṃbhasi yogātmā nirmalo nirupaplavaḥ // LiP_1,17.10 //
sahasraśīrṣā viśvātmā sahasrākṣaḥ sahasrapāt /
sahasrabāhuḥ sarvajñaḥ sarvadevabhavodbhavaḥ // LiP_1,17.11 //
hiraṇyagarbho rajasā tamasā śaṅkaraḥ svayam /
sattvena sarvago viṣṇuḥ sarvātmatve maheśvaraḥ // LiP_1,17.12 //
kālātmā kālanābhastu śuklaḥ kṛṣṇastu nirguṇaḥ /
nārāyaṇo mahābāhuḥ sarvātmā sadasanmayaḥ // LiP_1,17.13 //
tathābhūtamahaṃ dṛṣṭvā śayānaṃ paṅkajekṣaṇam /
māyayā mohitastasya tamavocamamarṣitaḥ // LiP_1,17.14 //
kastvaṃ vadeti hastena samutthāpya sanātanam /
tadā hastaprahāreṇa tīvreṇa sa dṛḍhena tu // LiP_1,17.15 //
prabuddho 'hīyaśayanāt samāsīnaḥ kṣaṇaṃ vaśī /
dadarśa nidrāviklinna- nīrajāmalalocanaḥ // LiP_1,17.16 //
māmagre saṃsthitaṃ bhāsā- dhyāsito bhagavān hariḥ /
āha cotthāya bhagavān hasanmāṃ madhuraṃ sakṛt // LiP_1,17.17 //
svāgataṃsvāgataṃ vatsa pitāmaha mahādyute /
tasya tadvacanaṃ śrutvā smitapūrvaṃ surarṣabhāḥ // LiP_1,17.18 //
rajasā baddhavairaś ca tamavocaṃ janārdanam /
bhāṣase vatsa vatseti sargasaṃhārakāraṇam // LiP_1,17.19 //
mām ihāntaḥsmitaṃ kṛtvā guruḥ śiṣyamivānagha /
kartāraṃ jagatāṃ sākṣāt prakṛteś ca pravartakam // LiP_1,17.20 //
sanātanamajaṃ viṣṇuṃ viriñciṃ viśvasaṃbhavam /
viśvātmānaṃ vidhātāraṃ dhātāraṃ paṅkajekṣaṇam // LiP_1,17.21 //
Brahma says: (Prior to creation) it was terribly dark all around. Everything was a vast sheet of water. In that water, the Lord whose nature is of being the means (yOgAtma), devoid of impurities and one who is free of calamities had gone to sleep. He had a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet and a thousand arms. He, the Universal self, omniscient, the source and origin of all, was characterized by rajas, tamas and sattva in the forms of Brahma, Rudra and Vishnu. He was omnipresent and the great lord (Maheshvara) in view of being the self of all. He was the Self of time, with the Universe which is “death” (kAla) as it is the place of samsAra, in his lotus, Narayana, the one of great arms, the Self of all, who constitutes the sentients and insentients….(etc etc)
Note that even before the appearance of the Linga, this Purana has contradicted itself by eulogizing Vishnu in terms which can only denote the Supreme Deity who has no-one above him! And this description of vishNu is perfectly in tune with the vedAntic description of Parabrahman.
Also note that this tAmasa purANa, while describing Lingodbhava, has openly referred to nArAyaNa as “mahEshvara”, thus showing he alone is the referent of the name in shruti! So much for Shaiva claims that the name can only belong to their deity, even the linga purANa in the context of lingodbhava attributes the name to vishNu!
The Linga Purana continues by saying that this deity is the lotus-eyed one. Brahma also calls him eternal. Vishnu then says:
rajasā baddhavairaś ca tamavocaṃ janārdanam /
bhāṣase vatsa vatseti sargasaṃhārakāraṇam // LiP_1,17.19 //
mām ihāntaḥsmitaṃ kṛtvā guruḥ śiṣyamivānagha /
kartāraṃ jagatāṃ sākṣāt prakṛteś ca pravartakam // LiP_1,17.20 //
sanātanamajaṃ viṣṇuṃ viriñciṃ viśvasaṃbhavam /
viśvātmānaṃ vidhātāraṃ dhātāraṃ paṅkajekṣaṇam // LiP_1,17.21 //
kimarthaṃ bhāṣase mohād vaktumarhasi satvaram /
so 'pi māmāha jagatāṃ kartāhamiti lokaya // LiP_1,17.22 //
bhartā hartā bhavān aṅgād avatīrṇo mamāvyayāt /
vismṛto 'si jagannāthaṃ nārāyaṇamanāmayam // LiP_1,17.23 //
puruṣaṃ paramātmānaṃ puruhūtaṃ puruṣṭutam /
viṣṇumacyutamīśānaṃ viśvasya prabhavodbhavam // LiP_1,17.24 //
tavāparādho nāstyatra mama māyākṛtaṃ tvidam /
śṛṇu satyaṃ caturvaktra sarvadeveśvaro hyayam // LiP_1,17.25 //
kartā netā ca hartā ca na mayāsti samo vibhuḥ /
ahameva paraṃ brahma paraṃ tattvaṃ pitāmaha // LiP_1,17.26 //
ahameva paraṃ jyotiḥ paramātmā tvahaṃ vibhuḥ /
yadyaddṛṣṭaṃ śrutaṃ sarvaṃ jagatyasmiṃścarācaram // LiP_1,17.27 //
tattadviddhi caturvaktra sarvaṃ manmayamityatha /
mayā sṛṣṭaṃ purāvyaktaṃ caturviṃśatikaṃ svayam // LiP_1,17.28 //
nityāntā hyaṇavo baddhāḥ sṛṣṭāḥ krodhodbhavādayaḥ /
prasādāddhi bhavānaṇḍāny anekānīha līlayā // LiP_1,17.29 //
sṛṣṭā buddhirmayā tasyām ahaṅkārastridhā tataḥ /
tanmātrāpañcakaṃ tasmān manaḥ ṣaṣṭhendriyāṇi ca // LiP_1,17.30 //
ākāśādīni bhūtāni bhautikāni ca līlayā /
Gist of this is: “Know that I am the cause of the creation and annihilation of the Universe. O sinless one (Brahma), you address me as a preceptor would address a disciple. But I am the creator of the Universe, the prompter of prakrti, the eternal, unborn Supreme Brahman, the origin and self of the Universe. I am the lotus eyed Lord……..(etc etc)”
Vishnu continues by saying – “I am the creator, preserver and destroyer of the Universe” etc and describes his supremacy with adjectives like iShaNa, Achyuta, etc. It is more of the same, so we can skip it for brevity.
Then the Purana says that Vishnu and Brahma start fighting, upon which a fiery linga arises, and the usual story of how neither of them could find the beginning or end of it, and Shiva is hailed as the Supreme, with Vishnu singing praises of Shiva. There is a long stuti in which Vishnu addresses Shiva as the supreme. That is of course mandatory, as it is the nature of this purANa.
There is a point to note regarding the “stuti” of Hari to Shiva. While the adjectives used in the above shlOkas for Hari conform to vedAnta, the stuti of Shiva is very general. It of course describes him as creator, preserver and destroyer, infinite, etc…but there is no distinct vedAntic philosophy to glean out of it. No specific reference to sharIrAtma bhAva or anything else which is a staple of vedAnta. This is actually the character of these shiva-stutis everywhere in the tAmasa purANAs – they are general in proclaiming him as Parabrahman, but have no real substance in them. It is like a poet praising a King – just adjectives without a philosophy which are exaggerations or arthavAda.
Compare this to say, the dhruva stuti of vishNu in the vishNu purANa which is full of majestic vedAntArthAs.
Once the Shiva stuti was completed, Shiva addresses Vishnu thus:
pralayasthitisargāṇāṃ kartā tvaṃ dharaṇīpate /
vatsa vatsa hare viṣṇo pālayaitaccarācaram // LiP_1,19.11 //
“O Lord of Bhumi Devi (dharaNipatE), you are the doer of dissolution, preservation and creation. O Hari, protect this Earth with all its’ mobile and immobile beings.”
Shiva then declares himself to be supreme, who has divided himself into 3 forms of Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra. He then tells vishNu to free himself of delusion and protect the worlds and Brahma. That is obviously the object of the story, to denigrate Vishnu. However, it contradicts the very shloka above where Rudra called Vishnu is the creator, preserver and destroyer as well as the protector!
If vishNu is indeed the “karta” of creation, preservation and destruction as Rudra claims, then it makes him the Parabrahman, as “jagatkAraNatva” is the primary lakShaNa for paratva. Although Rudra says in the next shloka that he divided himself into brahma, vishNu and rudra, it does not make sense in the presence of this shloka.
The following contradictions occur:
  1. If it is argued that vishNu being “kartA” means he is an “agent” or vibhUti who creates, preserves and destroys, then that means Brahman (Rudra) is pretty inactive, if he is using an agent for everything! While the Supreme Brahman can create and destroy through agents, he himself should be a protector, as it is not possible to ascribe all functions to vibhUtis.

  1. If vishNu alone creates, preserves and destroys, what is the need for Rudra to then say “I divide myself as brahma, vishNu, rudra”? What are the functions of Brahma and Rudra, and what is the function of this “sadA-shiva” who has given away all functions of Parabrahman to a vibhUti.

  1. Furthermore, a vibhUti of Brahman cannot be “sahasrasIrsha” or “sahasrAksha” as that signifies him being the sarvAntaryAmin.
  1. If it is argued that Rudra=VishNu, that goes contradictory to the entire incident which claimed vishNu was deluded, which would then attribute delusion to Rudra as well. Brahman cannot suffer delusion.
For, if Rudra had said vishNu is only the protector, and not the creator or destroyer, that would be consistent with sada-shiva-tUriya-vAda denigrating vishNu (even there, a major contradiction arises as none other than the Supreme can be a protector/preserver, which is why bhagavAn does not allot that role to a jIva!) . However, vishNu cannot be a vibhUti of rudra, and yet be the creator, preserver and destroyer, all in one. That makes him Brahman. In that case, he is either superior to Rudra or equal to him.
If he is equal to Rudra, it raises a further contradiction as to what Rudra’s role in the Universe is. If vishNu is the creator, preserver and destroyer, as well as “sahasrasIrsha” etc, what is the need for Rudra’s form then, does vishNu’s delusion accrue to Rudra, etc? Basically it is a bundle of contradictions.
The important takeaway from this Purana is that Rudra has not contradicted what was said earlier. If Vishnu is indeed the thousand armed, thousand eyed, etc., it means he is the sarvAntaryAmin as the heads, eyes of all beings are his. And if he is both the sarvAntaryAmin and the protector, he is the Supreme Brahman. He is also hailed as the creator, preserver and destroyer. In addition, the Purana while describing Vishnu also hails him as free of impurities, which contradicts with Rudra saying he was deluded earlier. So, despite this story elevating Rudra above Vishnu, the declaration of Vishnu as “sahasrasIrsha” etc is a direct upabrahmaNa for the Purusha Sukta and other such portions!
It is not possible for a lesser being to be eulogized as sahasra-sIrsha, etc, and hailed as the creator, preserver and destroyer. For if Vishnu is a just an agent, he should not be entrusted with all the acts of creation, preservation and destruction. So if vishNu is lower to Rudra, then it implies someone other than the Supreme Brahman is doing all the acts of creating, preserving and destroying as well as protecting the Universe and Rudra has no role. If Rudra is verily Vishnu, there is no purpose of rudra-rUpa then, when Vishnu alone is doing everything and any delusion attributed to vishNu accrues to Rudra as well. Thus, the tAmasatva of this story is clearly established, and the Supremacy of Vishnu alone comes out of this in an indirect manner.
The story is seen in the Linga purANa as follows:
evaM nAmnAM sahasreNa tuShTAva vRRiShabhadhvajam||
snApayAmAsa cha vibhuH pUjayAmAsa paMkajaiH |

In this way Vishnu pleased Siva whose flag is the Bull. Vishnu did Abhisheka of Siva and worshipped with lotus flowers.

parIkShArthaM hareH pUjAkamaleShu maheshvaraH ||
gopayAmAsa kamalaM tadaikaM bhuvaneshvaraH |

Siva the Lord of the Worlds hid one lotus flower from the Puja lotus flowers to test Vishnu.

hRRitapuShpo haristatra kimidaM tvabhyachintayat ||
Vishnu was missing one lotus and thought 'How has it happened?'

j~nAtvA svanetramuddhRRitya sarvasattvAvalambanam |
pUjayAmAsa bhAvena nAmnA tena jagadgurum ||

Vishnu plucked out His own eye and offered it in the worship with devotion to the Jagadguru Siva.

tatastatra vibhurdRRiShTvA tathAbhUtaM haro harim |
tasmAdavatatArAshu maNDalAt pAvakasya cha ||

Siva saw Vishnu in that condition without the eye and immediately appeared in the Fire Altar.

j~nAtaM mayedamadhunA devakAryaM janArdana |
sudarshanAkhyaM chakraM cha dadAmi tava shobhanam ||

Siva said - I know You have to do the work of the gods. I will give You the Sudarshana Chakra.

netraM cha netA jagatAM prabhurvai padmasannibham |
tadAprabhRRiti taM prAhuH padmAkShamiti suvratam ||   

The Lord of the World also gave back the lotus like eye to Vishnu. From that time people call Vishnu padmAksha or kamalanayana.

Let us ignore this entire incident which as usual is tAmasa and is merely an arthavAda to glorify Shiva for the purpose of people with tamO guNa vAsanas .
The main takeaway is that this story admits that people call vishNu “padmAksha” or “kamalanayana”, ie, the lotus eyed one and that his eyes resemble a lotus. So, that means the Being described in the ChandOgya as “tasya yathA kapyAsam puNdareekamEvamakshiNI:” can only refer to the Lord who is lotus-eyed as per this incident!
In other words, this story seeking to denigrate vishNu becomes an upabrahmaNa for the ChAndogya Upanishad in identifying the lotus eyed Lord alone as Parabrahman, and not Shiva or any other deity who doesn’t have lotus eyes according to this story. This is the absurd contradiction of the purANa.
So what is the purpose of this write-up?
  1. Besides the proof given in the “tAmasatva of purANAs” article, this is further proof of the tAmasatva of these stories. While seeking to denigrate vishNu, they inadvertently admit certain auspicious qualities of the Lord that are indicative of his supremacy.

  1. As such, these self-contradictory stories are no more than “arthavAda” to promote worship of a particular deity for those who have tamo guNa.

  1. All the purANAs were first narrated by Brahma. When Brahma is overcome by tamo guNa, he narrated the tAmasa purANAs.

  1. The narration of Brahma in his tAmasic mood is such that he, while beginning the story in a manner that is almost truthful, diverts to glorifying another deity.

  1. It is likely that the rishis like Suta, etc aided in the propagation of these stories as well for the sake of loka-kShema, so that even those with tAmasic inclinations can follow these stories.

  1. None of the Vaidikas admit the historicity of these stories, but they recognize that these purANAs do inadvertently confirm certain truths of shruti and thus quote those parts occasionally, like Sridhara did in his vishNu purANa vyAkhyana. They recognize the little merit these stories have in this manner.
In conclusion, these purANAs perfectly embody the traits bhagavAn has described in the gIta:
adharmaM dharmamiti yA manyate tamasA.a.avRRitA|
sarvArthAnviparItAMshcha buddhiH sA pArtha tAmasI|| (~Gita 18.32)
That Buddhi is of the nature of Tamas which is 'enveloped in Tamas' and 'reverses every value.' The meaning is that it regards Adharma as Dharma and Dharma as Adharma, existent as non-existent, and non-existent as existent, and higher truth as the lower and the lower truth as the higher, and thus reverses every value.
These stories are a perfect example of the above.
A small observation on another topic. There is a pAsuram by peyazhwar in mUnrAm thiruvandhAdhi as follows:
thaazh sadaiyum neeN mudiyum ON mazhuvum sakkaramum
soozh aravum pon Naanum thONRumAl soozhum
thiraNdu aruvi pAyum thiru malai mEl enthaikku
irAndu uruvum ONRAy isainthu
Meaning: The matted hair that hang down to his neck, the tall crown, the beautiful weapon called mazhuvu (axe), the chakrayudha,  the nAgABaraNa worn as ornaments,  the golden waist band  -- these two forms opposed to one another are seen as one form in my swAmi who resides in tirumalai form where streams flow down on all sides.
This pAsuram is not saying Lord venkateshwara is half-vishNu, half-shiva as some dvEshIs think. The same azhwar declares Shiva is subservient to bhagavAn in many places.
Azhwar is simply saying, “the Lord who resides in Tirumala, is the same one who took an avatara as “Shankara-Narayana” once, as he exhibits the same sousIlya guNa”. Explanation as below.
The acharyas comment on this pAsuram by saying that among the avatArAs of the Lord, one is called “Harihara” or “Shankaranarayana”. Bhagavan wanted to enlighten a rishi once that those who worship Rudra, are worshipping him in reality, as he, being Rudra’s antaryAmin, is the true granter of boons. So, bhagavAn assumed a form that was half-vishNu, half-shiva and appeared before the rishi. The attributes of vishNu were on the right side, while the attributes normally seen in shiva were on his left side.
This is not some “fusion”. ShrI periyavAcchan pillai clarifies here – Just as Narasimha is a man-lion form that wholly the lord and not the fusion of some random lion with him, similarly this Harihara rupa is wholly his, and it does not involve Shiva at all.
The purpose of this was to demonstrate the “sAdhaka rUpa” and the “siddha rUpa”, as Rudra meditates on nArAyaNa. Thus, Hari has all the attributes and it is by his accessibility that people gain their desires even if they worship Rudra.
It does not mean ShrI venkatEshwara has this form at Tirumala. In the previous pAsuram, azhwar said the Lord in other temples was the same as Trivikrama, etc. It only means, the Lord who resides in that temple, is the same as Trivikrama in guNAs. Similarly, the Lord who resides in Tirumala, has the same guNa of accessibility that ShankaranArAyaNa avatAra exhibited.
The tAmasa purANAs contain descriptions of Hari-Hara as fusions of Shiva and Vishnu which is avaidika and are not the same as this ShankaranArAyaNa avatAra.  
Just a small note on the issue.


  1. Thanks Sri HBB for addressing my question.

  2. Another interesting aspect of the tAmasa purANAs:

    There are usually several stOtrAs to various gods in the tAmasa purANAs. It is to be noted that stOtrAs to gods like Shiva occur only in a specific context (involving a description/story of Shiva) and also are very generic in meaning. However, whenever there is a section in the tAmasa purANa that is very general in context, then it is only Hari who is eulogised as the Supreme.

    Case in point, take the agni purANa. We have a section which is tAmasic, which is titled "Hymn to Shiva by Vashishta". Note that the section declares that Vashishta wanted a boon from Shiva and thus praised him; hence, the context itself is decided beforehand as pertaining to Shiva and no-one else. Hence, one can see a bias in the narrative skewed towards Shiva.

    The praise in this section is also extremely generic, such as "Obeisance to the golden linga, to the linga in the form of shAstra, to the linga of the form of three qualities, to the linga which is the self of all" etc. There is not much of a philosophy behind it.

    Now, take another section in the purANa which is titled "Complete Instruction on the Gayatri Mantra". Note that the context is not specific as in the case of Vashishta who sought a boon from Shiva. Rather, it is a general context that makes no assumption as to who the devata of the gAyatri is, or what its' meaning is. So, in such a general context, this section hails Vishnu as abiding in the gAyatri mantra:

    "That effulgence that is Vishnu is the Cause of the Origination of the Universe. Lord Vishnu in the form of agni, siva etc is praised in the Shastra as Brahman. That highest abode of Vishnu is the Sun....Hari verily is the (Universe that is) Mahat ...."

    Similarly, there is another section titled "Hymn to destroy sins". The context is again general, for it makes no assumptions as to who or what destroys sins. Here it begins with the following: "I salute the Lord Vishnu who is worshippable by all, who is without a beginning and end..." and proceeds to praise his avatArAs.

    Yet another general section is "Expiatory acts (prAyaschitta) for discontinuing worship of Gods". The context is a type of purification for those who neglected worship of devatas and nitya-naimittaka karmas. Again, this section makes no assumption about the god beforehand. And thus, in this section as well, it is said, ""For a man who repents after committing sin, the best expiation is the remembrance of Lord Hari".

    Note the general context always declares Vishnu as Brahman. Thus, wherever the tAmasa purANAs profess neutrality in context, they reveal the truth. The tAmasa portions that praise Shiva only occur in the context of describing the deeds of Shiva, his temples/worship, or a specific request pertaining to Shiva by someone, etc. Neither are the hymns of gods other than Vishnu philosophically meaningful. This can be kept in mind by those who are curious about the content of these purANAs.

  3. Namaste Sirs

    Often, the argument that aikya-vAdins give is that Hari can also appear in the form of Hara, Surya etc., so we must take Hara, Surya etc. also as Ishwara. This is an amusing argument. Because Hari is omnipotent, he can also appear in the form of the avowed atheist Richard Dawkins. Does it mean Richard Dawkins also becomes Ishwara?

  4. They are either incurably stupid or incurably indifferent to the truth even if it is shouted at in their faces.

    As a sample, take a look at the car-crash which is this article on Shiva supremacy by an advaitin:

    The author of this disaster actually professes pride on writing that piece here -

    Take a look at how he desperately tries to establish shiva above vishnu using garbage logic, incorrect interpretations and by quoting drona parva/anushasana parva interpolations, then finally claims he is only an "aikya-vAdin" who considers both as equal! These people never change in their hypocrisy.

    1. That is correct. My observation has been that an overwhelming majority of aikya-vAdins are prachchanna Shaivas who pay mere lip service to Vishnu-supremacy. There is nothing wrong with being a Shaiva, but one must openly acknowledge it.

      Also, after reading that person's article, it is pretty obvious to me that he has not even attempted to read the Mahabharata from the beginning and understand its central theme. Thank you anyway, for giving me more insight into the pseudo aikya-vAdins' style.

  5. I'm interested in this Shankaranarayana Avatara. Do you know which scripture (other than Tamasa Puranas) describe Vishnu appearing as Shankaranarayana before a Rishi, or what the Rishi's name is? Also, could you tell me which commentaries on the Moondram Thiruvanthadhi mention this?

    1. Unfortunately, the Acharyas do not specify the purANa. I have checked exhaustively, but it is not in the current versions of the major 18 purANAs, but then, these purANAs are not all in their present form, hence one cannot say if the story was there before. It could even be in the upapurANAs or even some text like the agastya samhita or so. Hard to identify the source, but it must have been well-known for the Acharyas to not cite it while describing the incident.

      Shri periyavAchan pillai references the incident in his vyAkhyAna for Moonram Thiruvandhadhi. The Kuresa Vijayam (which was written in the 16th century or so; it is not a work of the great Kurathazhwan or a record of his debate as is popularly assumed) contains a description of the entire incident, but again fails to mention where it is sourced from. However, here is the story, as is derived from the Kuresa Vijayam (translated on various websites into English):


    2. Cont'd from above...

      Excerpt from the Kuresa Vijayam:

      "The explanation for the Shankara Narayana story is given herewith: In the puranic age, one staunch Vishnu baktha set his journey to Prostrate Sri Ranganatha. On his way he was completely exhausted and was terribly hungry. He found a temple nearby and decided to cook the food inside the temple and do the Aradhana to Perumal before consuming it. To his surprise, he found that to be a Shivalaya (Shiva temple). Being a true Vaishnava, his conscience did not allow him to cook there and he came out. But he fainted due to starvation. At that juncture, Sriman Narayana appeared in disguise in front of the baktha and offered help. The Baktha explained the he could not cook in Shivalaya. Lord Vishnu explained that it is not a Shiva temple but the deity inside is Vishnu. He then took the Baktha inside the sanctum and showed His true form with Sanka and Chakra as Vishnu is the antaryami of Shiva. Thus the Shankara Narayana Moorthy came to existence. This is only a leela performed by Lord with His baktha."

      (This bhakta was mentioned to be a rishi by a vidwAn who did research on the story, but I am unable to recollect where I read this vidwAn's article on it).

      Shri Periyavacchan Pillai explains that Azhwar, in that pAsuram is saying, "The same accessibility (sousIlya) that the Lord displayed in his Shankara-Narayana avatara (by enabling the rishi to cook his food in an otherwise prohibited shiva temple by showing himself to possess the attributes of Shiva) --- that same accessibility (sousIlya) is shown by the Lord of Tirumala in descending on that hill and appearing visible to all. The idea is, azhwar is not saying that the Lord of Tirumala is having a form of Shankara-Narayana, rather, the guNa of sousIlyam is the same for both.

      There are several such incidents that Acharyas quote, but is not in the current versions of the purANAs. For instance, take the Sudarshana Satakam by Sri Kura Narayana Jeeyar:

      rudropyadrer duhitrA saha gahana guhAm yadbhayAdabhyayAsItdiSyAdviSvArcito va:...

      Meaning: In fear of the terrible fire of the Sudarshana Chakra (when it chased them), Shiva and Parvati hid in a cave to escape it...

      This incident of Shiva and his consort being chased by Sudarshana and hiding in a cave is mentioned along with the burning of Kashi in the shlOka (so much for the tAmasa stories of Shiva giving the Sudarshana to Vishnu then!). While we know the Kashi incident, we are unable to trace the purANa which describes the story of how and why Shiva and Parvati incurred the wrath of Sudarshana...maybe it is a continuation of the Kashi incident itself which might have occurred in some yuga and was available in a purANa back then.

      In any case, no-one should dispute the quotations of the three acharyas and their parampara as they are all very trustworthy and never quote spurious sources.

      On an unrelated note, not only does Narayana exhibit the attributes of Shiva in his own form of Shankara-Narayana, but the actual Rudra devata does reside in one half of his body according to the Mahabharata pramANa:

      “pasyaikAdasa mE rudrAn dakshiNam pArsvamAsrithAn” ~ (Moksha Dharma 167.51, Mahabharata)

      Meaning: See the 11 Rudras who are situated in my right side.

      The fact of Rudra having a portion of Bhagavan's right side is also mentioned in the Vishnu Dharma.

      Bhagavan has alloted a part of his body to each mukhya devata. Brahma occupies his navel, Lakshmi occupies his chest and Rudra occupies his right side. Nampillai quotes the above shloka and says that it is similar to a minister residing in the court of a King, and then returning to his home -- the places like Satya Loka, Kailasa, etc are like the courts where these devas have to discharge their duty, but when they are tired of samsAra and require shelter, they occupy the Lord's body just as a tired minister returns home from his duties.

      Hope this clarifies.

    3. Yes, thanks for all this. I have heard a story very similar to this. It is the Sthalapuranam of the Prasanna Venkatesha Perumal temple in Thiruparkadal (near Kanchipuram), which I coincidentally just visited. Pundarika Maharishi was a Vishnu Bhakta who would only eat after visiting a Vishnu temple. But one day, he couldn't find any Vishnu temples in the area, so he was prepared to starve. But then Vishnu took the form of an old man, and told Pundarika that he knew where there was a Vishnu temple in the area. He took Pundarika to a Shiva temple, and when Pundarika objected the old man insisted that it was a Vishnu temple. Then Pundarika went inside and saw a Shivalingam, but then the Shivalingam burst into pieces and Venkateshwara emerged from inside. So to this day, the Venkateshwara statue in the temple is standing on an Avudiyar (the pedestal of a Shivalingam).

      I'm not sure what scripture this Sthalapuranam is based on, but this may be a case of Kalpabheda. At one time Vishnu may have appeared before Pundarika (or another Rishi) as Shankaranarayana, and at another time he may have appeared before Pundarika as Venkateshwara standing on an Avudiyar.

    4. Certainly, kalpa bheda is one explanation. I am aware of that temple.

      Just as the purANAs and upa-purANAs are divided into sattvika, rAjasika, tAmasika, so are the sthala purANAs of various temples. One can accept a sthala purANa if it conforms to the Vedas (such as venkateswara mAhAtmya), otherwise it is an arthavAda aimed at glorifying a particular temple and the god within (such as arunAchala mAhAtmya for instance).

  6. Dear all,

    Here is an interesting example of how a purANa is sAttvika or tAmasIka in its' explanations.

    We know the term "bhagavAn" can be used for many entities. In this matter, srI vishNu purANa gives an exacting definition:

    śuddhe mahāvibhūtyākhye pare brahmaṇi vartate /maitreya bhagavacchabdaḥ sarvakāraṇakāraṇe // saṃbharteti tathā bhartā bhakāro 'rthadvayānvitaḥ /netā gamayitā sraṣṭā gakārārthas tathā mune // aiśvaryasya samagrasya vīryasya yaśasaḥ śriyaḥ / jñānavairāgyayoś caiva ṣaṇṇāṃ bhaga itīraṇā // vasanti tatra bhūtāni bhūtātmany akhilātmani /sa ca bhūteṣv aśeṣeṣu vakārārthas tato 'vyayaḥ // evam eṣa mahāśabdo bhagavān iti sattama /paramabrahmabhūtasya vāsudevasya nānyagaḥ // tatra pūjyapadārthoktiparibhāṣāsamanvitaḥ / śabdo 'yaṃ nopacāreṇa anyatra hy upacārataḥ // utpattiṃ pralayaṃ caiva bhūtānām āgatiṃ gatim /vetti vidyām avidyāṃ ca sa vācyo bhagavān iti // jñānaśaktibalaiśvaryavīryatejāṃsy aśeṣataḥ / bhagavacchabdavācyāni vinā heyair guṇādibhiḥ //ViP_6,5.72-79 //

    Meaning (Quoting Sacred Texts): The word Bhagavat is a convenient form to be used in the adoration of that supreme being, to whom no term is applicable; and therefore Bhagavat expresses that supreme spirit, which is individual, almighty, and the cause of causes of all things. The letter Bh implies the cherisher and supporter of the universe. By ga is understood the leader, impeller, or creator. The dissyllable Bhaga indicates the six qualities of jnana, bala, virya, aishwarya, shakt and tejas. The purport of the letter va is that elemental spirit in which all beings exist, and which exists in all beings . And thus this great word Bhagavan is the name of Vásudeva, who is one with the supreme Brahma, and of no one else. When applied to any other (thing or person) it is used in its customary or general import. In the latter case it may purport one who knows the origin and end and revolutions of beings, and what is wisdom, what ignorance. In the former (Narayana), it denotes the 6 attributes of jnana etc, without end, and without defect.

    So, shri parAsara has given a definition as follows – “BhagavAn” denotes the 6 auspicious attributes when it refers to the Lord, because these attributes are his unique dharmas. It is a general term referring to omniscience in a respectful manner when applied to other beings.

    The key takeaway is this – the definition of “bhagavAn” for Vasudeva as given by shri parAsara cannot be applied to another entity as no-one else possesses the 6 attributes in the manner he does. Thus, it is a distinguishing definition of Parabrahman. Where “bhagavAn” is applied to other entities, the general meaning is given.

    Keeping this in mind, let us look at the definition of “Bhagavan” as per the Shiva Purana.

    cont'd below...

  7. Cont'd from above...

    The Shiva Purana offers the following definition and tries to elevate Shiva as Brahman, as follows:

    bhaṃ vṛddhiṃ gacchatītyarthādbhagaḥ prakṛtirucyate । prākṛtaiḥ śabdamātrādyai prākṛtendriyabhojanāt ।।bhagasya daṃ bhogamiti śabdārtho mukhyataḥ śrutaḥ ।mukhyo bhagastu prakṛtirbhagavāñchiva ucyate ।।bhagavān bhogadātā hi nānyo bhogapradāyakaḥ ।bhagasvāmī ca bhagavānanbharga ityucyate budhaiḥ ।।bhagena sahitaṃ liṃgaṃ bhagaṃ liṃgena saṃyutam ।ihāmutra ca bhogārtha nityabhogārthameva ca ।। (Shiva Purana 1.16)

    Meaning: The word Bhaga means the Prakirti because it increases and flourishes. The Sabda matras etc. evolved out of Prakrti, being enjoyed by the sense organs, the word Bhaga comes to mean that which gives Bhoga. Bhaga is Prakrti and Bhagavan is Shiva. Bhagavan alone bestows the Bhoga of everything. No one else except him bestows the Bhoga. Bhagavan is indeed the lord of Bhaga, therefore he is also called Bharga. Bhaga is meant for Linga and the Linga is meant for Bhaga in this world as well as in the next.

    Note this definition is quite grammatically correct. But the tAmasatva of the definition is this – it does not provide a distinguishing meaning for “bhagavAn” that unequivocally defines a supreme entity. Why?

    Because, the definition given above, is not specific to Parabrahman. The above meaning can be applied to the jIvAtma as well. Because the jIva is “linga” as it is jnApaka-hetu for forms like man, deva etc. It is “Shiva” because it is agreeable in nature. It is the master of prakrti as it is the enjoyer. It is the bestower of prakrti as the myriad forms cannot exist without it. It is hence called “bhagavAn” as well.

    So, the tAmasatva of this context is this – In claiming to provide a solid definition of “bhagavAn” for the Supreme Being, the Shiva Purana provides a general meaning which could even denote the jIvAtma rather than give a specific meaning. Thus, one cannot inquire into the nature of the Supreme Being with this definition, as being “Master of Prakrti” is not a unique characteristic only possessed by the Supreme. Contrast this with the Vishnu Purana, where shrI parAsara very clearly declares two meanings for “bhagavAn” – the specific meaning of being endowed with 6 attributes denotes only vAsudeva, while the general meaning of omniscience etc denotes any respectable person.

    The implication of this is, it is impossible to gain an insight into the true nature of Brahman using tAmasa purANAs. Not only do they elevate the lesser gods as Brahman, but the qualities they describe as referring to Brahman are not uniquely those of the Supreme, but can also denote other entities like jIva. Hence, one can become confused as to the actual difference between Brahman and Jiva, and not be able to determine what distinguishes both. After all, both are masters of prakrti!

    It can also be said that even the Shiva Purana, despite being a tAmasa purANa, does not dare to attribute the definition of possessing the 6 auspicious attributes to Shiva, when the venerable parAshara has clearly declared that no-one other than vAsudeva is to be described in that manner. So, this is a surreptitious acknowledgement of Hari’s supremacy by the tAmasa purANa itself!


  8. Cont'd from above...

    And thus, the Atharvasiras uses the term "bhagavAn" in the manner described by the vishNu purANa, to denote Vasudeva who possesses 6 attributes as follows:

    yo vai rudraH sa bhagavAnyashcha brahmA tasmai vai namonamaH yo vai rudraH sa bhagavAn.h yashcha viShNustasmai vai namonamaH ..yo vai rudraH sa bhagavAnyashcha skandastasmai vai namonamaH

    Meaning: He who is (the indweller of) Rudra, he verily is Bhagavan, who is (the indweller of) Brahma. He who is (the indweller of) Rudra, he verily is Bhagavan, who is Vishnu. He who is (the indweller of) Rudra, he verily is Bhagavan, who is (the indweller of) Skanda....

    Note that "bhagavAn" here specifically denotes Vasudeva, who possesses the 6 auspicious attributes as per Vishnu Purana. Sri Uttamur Swami had indicated this in our earlier article on the atharvasiras. One cannot use the Shiva Purana's definition here, because calling the antaryAmin as "master of prakrti" does not differentiate it from the jIva which is also "master of prakrti"!

    The idea is that, the Lord with the 6 auspicious attributes who alone is Brahman, who is well-known as Vasudeva, who is the antaryAmin of Rudra --- that self-same Lord is the antaryAmin of Brahma and Skanda as well, and is verily Vishnu. Thus, the devas realized that their antaryAmin was the same as the antaryAmin of Rudra (neha nAnAsti kinchana).

    This illustrates how "bhagavAn" is specifically used to identify Vasudeva as Parabrahman, unlike the Shiva purana which gives a meaning applicable to both jIva and Brahman, and tries to derive only supremacy from it.

    Should illustrate its' tAmasatva. In this manner, there are many ways to understand how the tAmasa purANAs do not provide a holistic picture of the tattvas. Basic common sense is enough to deduce the superiority of vishNu and bhAgavata purANAs in this aspect.


    1. Excellent Sri Aaryamaa, excellent. This completely refutes the arguments of that Veerashaiva, who is propagating nonsense on the internet with respect to the word bhagavAn.

      It is a pity that your excellent post is in the comments section. I think it should have been an article in itself.

    2. Oh, we are using it in our explanation of the Ishvara Gita in future articles. So we will dump this explanation there when it comes up.

      It is true that the context of the shloka in the shiva purANa is tAmasa - hailing shiva as Brahman, attributing qualities common to jIva to Shiva (look at the contradictions!). But the actual etymology as given by the Shiva Purana for "Bhagavan" is quite legitimate/useful and can be used perfectly well in its' proper context, as opposed to the context that the Purana is advocating. This is similar to how Shri Shankara himself quotes etymological explanation of names like "rudra" from the Shiva Purana ignoring their context.


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