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Analysis of Sauptika Parva

In the Sauptika Parva, Ashwattama performs a tAmasic penance to Rudra to gain the power to kill the pAndavas. Rudra appears before Ashwattama and says:
satyaśaucārjava tyāgais tapasā niyamena ca kṣāntyā bhaktyā ca dhṛtyā ca buddhyā ca vacasā tathā
yathāvad aham ārāddhaḥ kṛṣṇenākliṣṭakarmaṇā
Here, Rudra says he has been worshipped by Krishna.
Our Shaivite friends, as usual ignoring context and meaning, take this shlOka and try to make out that Krishna worshipped Rudra as the supreme. So, let us address this.

It is nothing out of the ordinary. We know very well that shrI krishNa worshipped Rudra during his avatAra as per the following pramANAs:
anyadevaM varaM dehi prasiddhaM sarvajantuShu |
martyo bhUtvA bhavAneva mama sAdhaya keshava ||
mAM bhajasva cha devesha varaM matto gR^ihANa cha |
yenAhaM sarvabhUtAnAM pUjyAtpUjyataro.abhavam ||
Meaning : (Rudra says): "Please give me this boon. By incarnating on Earth, Oh Lord Kesava, worship me and get boons from me. From this, I will become worship-worthy to all the beings”.
devakAryAntarEShu mAnuShatvaMupEyivan| tvamEvArAdhayiShyAmi mama tvaM varadO bhava||
Meaning: (VishNu says:) In all the devakAryAs, by taking forms resembling a human, I will worship you only and make you varadA or the granter of boons.
Also this shlOka,
AhaMapyavatArEshu tvAM ca rudra mahAbala |tAmasAm mohanArthaM pUjayAmi yuge yuge||
Meaning: O Rudra of mighty arms! In every yuga (during his krishNavatAra), I in my avatArAs, for the sake of deluding the tAmasic people (like Ashwattama), worship you.
Bhagavan himself explains in the Shanti parva that he had only worshipped Rudra’s antaryAmin and had he not worshipped Rudra, then the latter would never be worshipped by anyone as follows:
yadyahaM nArchayeyaM vai IshAnaM varadaM shivam AtmAnaM nArchayetkashchiditi me bhAvitaM manaH (~shanti parva, mahAbhArata)
Meaning: If I did not worship Rudra, the bestower of boons, some would not worship me, the indwelling Lord (having Rudra as my body), at all - this is my opinion.
When Krishna says here that “Some would not worship me otherwise”, he means Rudra by “me”. Because Rudra is the body of Krishna, by sAmAnAdhikaraNya, “me” applies to Rudra and the antaryAmin of Rudra. So, what bhagavAn is saying above is that, “If I didn’t make this deity worship-worthy by worshipping his antaryAmin, none would worship him, which implies none would worship me in the form of Rudra, as he is my body and I am his antaryAmin”.
Furthermore, shrI Krishna also clarifies in the Sauptika Parva itself that he worshipped Rudra for the sake of obtaining sons (and not as though Rudra is some supreme deity) as follows:
brahmacaryaṃ mahad ghoraṃ cīrtvā dvādaśa vārṣikam
himavatpārśvam abhyetya yo mayā tapasārcitaḥ
Meaning: That son whom I obtained through ascetic penances and observances of austere brahmacarya for twelve years on the breast of Himavati whither I had gone for the purpose….
And in the Harivamsha, this penance of Krishna is declared in detail and it also explains how Shiva worshipped Krishna after this “penance” and identified him alone as the Supreme. A sample of what Shiva tells Krishna in that section:
nAnyo jagati devo.asti viShNornArAyaNAtparaH |…(Harivamsha~3-89-9)
Spoken by none other than Shiva itself. It cannot get clearer than this. So much for “Shiva paratva” then!
There is not even any need to go all the way to Harivamsha. In the same Sauptika Parva itself, shrI Krishna declares that no deva or dAnava is superior to him as follows:
na samā mama vīryasya śatāṃśenāpi piṇḍitāḥ
Meaning: Gods, Asuras, Gandharvas, Manushyas, Birds and Snakes assembled together do not equal even a hundredth part of my power.
When that is the case, where is the question of Rudra being superior to Krishna?
So, we have proven that the words of Rudra to Ashwattama about Krishna worshipping him pertained to the incident of getting progeny for Rukmini. Anyway, let us look at the dialogue between Rudra and Ashwattama in detail.
Explanation of Rudra’s Words
Ashwattama appeases Rudra by performing tapas. Rudra appears before Ashwattama. At this point, Rudra faces the following dilemma:
  1. He knows that the boon he is about to give Ashwattama is directly against the will of shrI krishNa, as it transgresses dharma. Ashwattama has already invited the ire of the Lord.
  2. Furthermore, by giving this boon, Rudra could become known as one who acted against shrI krishna as well.
To clarify and justify his stand, Rudra smiles and tells Ashwattama the following:
satyaśaucārjava tyāgais tapasā niyamena ca kṣāntyā bhaktyā ca dhṛtyā ca buddhyā ca vacasā tathā
yathāvad aham ārāddhaḥ kṛṣṇenākliṣṭakarmaṇā   
Meaning: I have been worshipped by Krishna, of unwearied actions with (ie, in association with the auspicious qualities of) Good-Naturedness, Clarity of Mind, Integrity, Abandon, Knowledge, Controllership, Forgiveness, Determined Attachment, Patience, Intelligence and Sweet Words.
By this shlOka, rudra clarifies his stand as follows:
First, Rudra explains that he is installed as a boon giving god by the worship of Krishna, and thus is duty-bound to grant Ashwattama’s boon.
Thus, by saying “ahaM ArAddha krishNena…”, Rudra clarifies that bhagavAn has fulfilled his boon to him, made him a deity who can grant boons and thus, he cannot be considered to be in the wrong to give this boon to Ashwattama. He is only acting as per the will of the Lord who appointed him as a boon-giver.
This absolves Rudra of blame for what will transpire.
Next, Rudra clarifies the question as to whether by such worship, KrishNa becomes inferior or superior to him. He says “krishNenAklishta karmaNA:” – “I was worshipped by Krishna of unfatigued actions”. What is the meaning?
akliShtakarmaNA” – One who carries out actions without fatigue or weariness. Meaning, bhagavAn is one who is always carrying out actions to please his devotees unceasingly. He never tires of doing this. Always he is thinking, “what next can I do to make my devotee happy?”. In present context, it means that shrI krishNa carried out the action of worshipping Rudra to please his devotee Rudra, making him reputed as a boon-giver.
The proof of this interpretation can be seen in the rAmAyaNa where an almost similar shlOka occurs:
vibhiiShaNo.atha sugriivo hanumaan jaambavaaMstathaa || 6-128-86
sarvavAnaravR^iddhAshcha raameNaakliShTakarmaNaa |
yathArhaM pUjitAH sarve kAmai ratnaishcha puShkalair || 6-128-87
prahR^iShTamanasaH sarve jagmureva yathAgatam |
Meaning: Rama, who was unwearied in action, then suitably honoured Vibhishana, Sugreeva, Hanuma, Jamabavan and all other eminent monkeys with desired objects and abundant gifts. All of them went back, delighted in mind even as they had come.
The shlOka is very similar to what Rudra has said. Rama and Krishna are both mentioned to be “akliShtakarmaNa:” - of unfatigued action in the context of rewarding their devotees. Rudra uses the term “ArAddhaH” which is similar to usage of the word “pUjitAH” in the rAmAyaNa.
Thus, Rudra, like Vibhishana, etc was also a devotee of the Lord and honored by being worshipped, which was the boon that Rudra sought from the Lord. While Vibhishana, etc were honored with gifts as per their desires, Rudra was worshipped as per his desire. BhagavAn honors his devotees as per their desires.
The usage of “akliShtakarmaNA:”, a kalyANa guNa of bhagavAn specifically in reference to his devotees establishes that Rudra, like VibhishaNa, etc, is a devotee of the Lord and was merely honored by worship.
Even Arjuna and others are often referred to as “akliShtakarmaNA:” elsewhere, but the term assumes a special significance when used in reference to bhagavAn in the context of him serving his devotees. For it is well known that he is never satisfied in granting the wishes of his devotees.
Having proven that Rudra is a boon-giving god due to shrI krishNa’s grace and is also the latter’s devotee, the adjectives that Rudra uses for shrI krishNa’s “worship” of Rudra can be interpreted as describing the auspicious attributes of the Lord, as follows:
Rudra says shrI krishNa worshipped him in association with the qualities of:
  • Satya – BhagavAn is called “satya” because he is always good to sat-puruShAs like Shiva who seek favors from him. Shiva is a sat-puruSha as he is meditating on bhagavAn through the tAraka mantra, and thus becomes fit to be honored by bhagavAn.

  • Saucha – Purity. BhagavAn is pure, and thus association with him makes one pure. In this case, bhagavAn gave rudra a boon that would make the latter worship-worthy, and thus, purified Rudra by making him worshippable through his association.

  • Arjava – The quality of integrity. The idea is that, bhagavAn would never mean one thing, say another and do a third thing. When he says “I will worship rudra and make him worship-worthy”, he did exactly that. He is not capable of duplicity and is always sincere.

  • tyAga – Forsaking his lofty position of being the worshipped, bhagavAn became the worshipper. This is “tyAga”.

  • tapasA – “tapas” means knowledge, as per “tapObrahma”. BhagavAn possesses the Supreme Knowledge of Paravidya, and when he worshipped Rudra, it was as per the shAstra only, whereby he worshipped himself, ie, the antaryAmin.

  • niyama - jati, Ayuh, bhogadikam niyamyate asmin iti Niyamah – BhagavAn ordains the fruits of worship to each individual according to the nature of their worship of the anya devatas of their choice. He allows the individual to choose the deity of their choice, makes their conviction in the deity steady and empowers the deity to bestow the desired fruit on the individual. In this manner, he has empowered Rudra to fulfill the desires of others by worshipping Rudra with this quality.

  • kSantya – Forgiveness. He endures several transgressions of Rudra such as fighting with him during the bAnAsura yuddha, etc, forgives him for it and still elevates Rudra by worshipping him.

  • bhaktya – The root “bhaj-“ refers to incessant and determined engagement or practice in something. It means, he is ever engaged in looking after the welfare of devotees when they surrender to him. Thus, when Rudra surrendered to him, bhagavAn granted him his desire and worshipped him to elevate him.

  • dhRtya – Patience. He endures whatever his devotees do with him patiently. When yaShoda wanted to tie him with the rope, he patiently allowed himself to be tied. When Rudra wanted bhagavAn to worship him, he patiently did so without fuss.

  • buddhya – Intellect. BhagavAn is acutely intelligent and knows the desires of his devotees very well. He knew the desire of Rudra and fulfilled it.

  • vacasA – With words which are pleasing to listen to for his devotees, he eulogizes them. Thus he praised Rudra with sweet words.
Thus, all of these qualities indicate the supremacy of the Lord when he worshipped Rudra. This shloka does not support shiva-paratva.
Shiva, by citing the worship of Krishna, has clarified that he is competent to give Ashwattama a boon. Now, to dispel the idea that he is acting against Krishna, Shiva says,
tasmād iṣṭatamaḥ kṛṣṇād anyo mama na vidyate
Meaning: On account of (his magnanimous nature and the auspicious qualities described above), there is none dearer to me than Krishna.
“tasmAd” here means, “on account of these auspicious qualities with which he lowered himself to the level of worshipping me and his magnamimous nature in elevating me”. This is as per the brihadAraNyaka which says that the Atman is dearer than wealth, wife, etc.
kurvatā tasya saṃmānaṃ tvāṃ ca jijñāsatā mayā
pāñcālāḥ sahasā guptā māyāś ca bahuśaḥ kṛtāḥ
kṛtas tasyaiṣa saṃmānaḥ pāñcālān rakṣatā mayā
Meaning: For honouring him (Krishna) and at his word I have protected the Pancalas and displayed diverse kinds of wondrous powers. By protecting the Pancalas I have honoured him.
“sammAna” refers to the act of honor, ie, kainkarya. The maxim is, “bhagavAn follows his devotees, who follows his path”. As Shiva is a devotee of Krishna, he being rewarded by Krishna with his desires, paid respects to Krishna by offering him services in the form of protecting the Panchalas.
Shiva, by this, has clarified that he is competent to give Ashwattama a boon and that his own disposition is not against the will of Krishna. Now, he justifies his stand by declaring that what he is doing (in giving this boon) is dharmic as per the following:
abhibhūtās tu kālena naiṣām adyāsti jīvitam
Meaning: They have, however, been afflicted by time. The period of their lives has run out.
Furthermore, the same section says Mahadeva granted Ashwattama’s boon by entering the latter’s body through yogic power as follows:
evam uktvā maheṣvāsaṃ bhagavān ātmanas tanum
āviveśa dadau cāsmai vimalaṃ khaḍgam uttamam
athāviṣṭo bhagavatā bhūyo jajvāla tejasā
varṣmavāṃś cābhavad yuddhe deva sṛṣṭena tejasā
Meaning: Having said these words unto the high-souled Ashvatthama, Bhagavan Mahesha entered Ashvatthama's body after giving him an excellent and polished sword. Filled by that divine being, Drona's son blazed up with energy. In consequence of that energy derived from Bhagavan (Rudra), he became all-powerful in battle.
*Note that “bhagavAn” is an honorific here for a respected person.
Besides the fact that the power of entering another’s body as demonstrated here is typically that of yOgi (parakAya pravEsa) who is a jIva with merit, what “supreme being” associates himself with a tAmasic person like Ashwattama in this manner for an act of adharma?
For it is adharma. Despite Shiva’s justification, such a manner of killing is an act of tamO guNa.
Of course, Shiva justifies his actions by saying the time of death for the sons of pAndavas has come. Ashwattama was a vyAja (excuse) to bring about their deaths. But it does not make Ashwattama’s actions dharmic. And therefore, it does not make Rudra’s actions of giving a tAmasic person boons dharmic either. There is never an instance in shAstra of bhagavAn vAsudeva ever empowering an Asura in the manner Rudra has empowered Ashwattama here. These are the actions of a lesser deity who is associated with tamo guNa, and who cannot offer protection to all unlike bhagavAn.
The Sauptika Parva also says that even despite all this power granted to Ashwattama, both him and Rudra only achieved this heinous act because bhagavAn himself as well as his associates was absent during that time:
teṣāṃ nūnaṃ bhayān nāsau kṛtavān kurunandana
asāṃnidhyād dhi pārthānāṃ keśavasya ca dhīmataḥ
sātyakeś cāpi karmedaṃ droṇaputreṇa sādhitam
na hi teṣāṃ samakṣaṃ tān hanyād api marutpatiḥ
Meaning: Through fear of the Parthas, O son of Kuru's race, Ashvatthama could not achieve such a feat then. It was owing to the absence of the Parthas and the intelligent Keshava as also of Satyaki, that Drona's son could accomplish it. Who is there, the lord Indra unexcepted, that is competent to slay them in the presence of these heroes?
Note the usage of “Keshava” here. The name means that the Lord is the master of brahma and rudra, this he is Keshava. It is to highlight that Krishna is the master to Rudra, and thus the latter could not have empowered Ashwattama to achieve this had Krishna been here, that the name “Keshava” is specifically mentioned.
When it is said “Including Indra, none can slay them in their presence”, Rudra is also included by virtue of the fact that the current act was achieved by Rudra in the absence of the Pandavas. Had Rudra been able to slay them in the presence of Krishna, the shloka would have included him as an exception.
Not just Krishna. Even were the associates of bhagavAn like Arjuna and Satyaki were present, Rudra would not have been able to kill them through Ashwattama! The devotees of the Lord are as powerful as him.
Thus, the analysis of this section only brings out the paratva of the Lord nArAyaNa.
Krishna’s Praise of Rudra
Later on in the same Parva, Krishna explains to Yudhishthira as to why the sons of pAndavas were killed. We might as well explain this shlOka as well here, though it has been explained earlier by us in the comments:
nūnaṃ sa deva devānām īśvareśvaram avyayam jagāma śaraṇaṃ drauṇir ekas tenāvadhīd bahūn
prasanno hi mahādevo dadyād amaratām api vīryaṃ ca giriśo dadyād yenendram api śātayet
vedāhaṃ hi mahādevaṃ tattvena bharatarṣabha yāni cāsya purāṇāni karmāṇi vividhāny uta
ādir eṣa hi bhūtānāṃ madhyam antaś ca bhārata viceṣṭate jagac cedaṃ sarvam asyaiva karmaṇā | (MBH 10:17:6-9)
Meaning: (KrishNa says:) Drona’s son sought the aid of the Lord of Devas (Shiva), who is the Ishvareswara as he is the superior most to those others who are called Ishvaras (like sanat-kumArAs, etc) as they are masters of their minds, who are not covered, ie, their knowledge is unobscured (avyaya). Girisha can give such strength as can enable one to prevail over Indra himself. if Mahadeva is pleased, he can even grant mOksha, meaning, the knowledge that leads to Moksha. I indeed know mahAdeva in reality, ie, his essence which is nArAyaNa, and also his acts of old (accomplished by the aid of nArAyaNa). He (ie, the rudra sharIraka paramAtma) is certainly is the beginning, the middle, and the end of all creatures. This entire universe acts and moves through his will.
The Ishvara gIta of the kUrma purANa contains a shlOka that describes one who regularly practices yoga as “mahEshvara” and thus “Ishvara” refers to those who are the masters of controllers of their mind (and senses). Rudra is the best among them, hence he is “IshvarEshvara”.
Rudra is avyaya - na vIyatE - he is not covered (by ignorance). Meaning, his knowledge of Brahman is not obstructed by karmas which prevent one from undertaking bhakti yOga.
On account of these qualities, Rudra has earned sufficient merit so as to grant others prowess capable of checking Indra.
On account of these qualities, Rudra can be said to grant moksha even. The “hi” in the shlOka shows that this is not a deity that is renowned to grant moksha, hence the fact that Rudra can grant moksha is a cause for wonder. So how can Rudra grant moksha?
He can grant the knowledge of vishNu that leads to moksha. What is the proof for this interpretation? “jnAnam iccet IshvarAt”
Mahadeva grants moksha because he grants knowledge of Brahman that leads to moksha. The speaker is krishNa who alone grants moksha to everyone. Thus, it is very easy for him to say "mahadeva grants moksha", for it only means "Those who surrender to Shiva for knowledge are never refused moksha as it is my will". The analogy is like a King saying "Talk to my minister, he can solve all your problems" - it only means the King solves everyone's problems when they approach the minister.
“vedAhaM hi mahAdevaM tattvEna” – I know mahAdeva in reality or essence, meaning, I know him in his true nature or essence as nArAyaNa. For the true nature of a jIva is nothing but paramAtma, who as the antaryAmin sustains the jIva and is the cause for existence of the jIva.
"mahAdevaM tattvEna" - Unlike vishvAmitra who simply says "ahaM vedmi rAmaM" in the rAmAyaNa, sri krishNa says "vedAhaM hi mahAdevaM tattvena" - rather than just "mahAdevam". The reason is because while rAma has no antaryAmin, mahAdeva has that rAma (nArAyaNa) as his antatyAmin.
Note that krishNa uses "hi" again - it implies that the true nature of Mahadeva is his antaryAmin which is hidden to all.
This word “tattvEna” echoes the upanishadic statement “nityO nityAnAm” and “satyasya satyam” – paramAtma is the reality of the many realities and the truth of the other truths as he is the inner self of the jivA, has the jivA as his body and makes them exist as well as empowers them. Mahabharata also uses the term “nArAyaNatmaka” with respect to Rudra – spoken by krishNa himself.
The sahasranAma has the names “tattvam tattva vidEkAtma”. Here, it is mentioned “tattvam” is a name of vishNu. Bhattar gives the following meaning for “tattvam” nAma – “He who is the essence (sArAmSha) or principle of the Universe.  Bhattar further adds - "dadhi dugdhayoriva dadhisAraH cit acitoH vyApti  prayojanAbhyAm sArAmSaH tat-tvam" – Like butter which is the essence  of milk and curd, bhagavAn, by His pervasion and usefulness in the  sentient and non-sentient things, is the essence of all things. Butter gives texture, taste, the energy content, etc., to milk and curd. So also, bhagavAn is the essence of all things, by being the cause of their existence, the source of their sustenance etc.”
Thus, “vedAhaM hi mahAdevaM tattvEna” means “I know Mahadeva in his essence (Narayana)”.
So, it is to say that mahAdeva’s boon to ashwattama is very great because his antaryAmin (nArAyaNa) has aided mahAdeva to perform wondrous acts in the past. Then, the lines - he is the beginning, middle, end and universe acts by his will etc refer to paramAtma who is the innerself of Rudra and has Rudra as his body. So he last line describes that tattva, the antaryAmin only.
Finally, bhagavAn describes the destruction of a deva yajna in the past as a sample of Rudra’s prowess. The inner meanings of that incident have been covered in this blog under the article on Shiva Leelas here.
Thus, the Sauptika Parva has been covered to a substantial extent here. It, like other portions of the mahAbhArata, only talks about shrI krishNa as the supreme person and no other.

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