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Shiva Leelas

In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna says:janma karma ca me divyam evam yo vetti tattvatah tyaktva deham punar janma.
The simple meaning of this statement is that those who understand the divine nature of his form and activities attain liberation. Many misunderstand this into thinking this involves just a rudimentary comprehension of his avatArAs. They believe that mere acceptance of krishNa as paramAtma and knowledge of his activities such as stealing butter, dancing with gOpIs, etc is enough. While such knowledge is no doubt very lofty, it is not what bhagavAn means here.
According to this sloka, bhagavAn wants us to understand and meditate unceasingly on his leelas with their inner meanings. Every act of bhagavAn has a meaning. Thus, understanding the inner meaning of bhagavad leelas alone gives moksha, strictly speaking from the perspective of upAsakas.
The act of stealing butter signifies this – the pot is the body, the butter is the jIvAtmA. BhagavAn breaks the pot (body) and steals (liberates) the jivAtma (butter). He steals, because we are reluctant to relinquish the body. The fact that we are reluctant to do anything on our own, and he does the breaking and stealing, implies that he alone is the means. He enjoys the butter by eating it (jIvAtma), showing that we are bhOgyam for him, and our essential nature is to please him. Though he already has a stock of butter stored at his house, prepared by Yashoda, he goes from house to house stealing more. The idea being, although he has infinite number of jIvAs already liberated in the supreme abode, he is never satisfied and wants to liberate all the baddhas.
In this manner, understanding the leelAs of bhagavAn gives moksha for upAsakas. This is the mode of meditation for the great rishis, devas and of course, the AchAryAs of the srI Vaishnava tradition. Nammazhwar fainted for 6 months thinking about his sousIlya guNa exhibited when Yashoda tied him up.
Now, we come to the topic in hand. It is not just bhagavad leelAs that have inner meanings. The acts of other devas like Brahma, Rudra and Indra too have inner meanings. For instance, Indra killed Vrtra can be interpreted as “the jIvAtma which is wealthy on account of being endowed with knowledge (Indra), killed (destroyed) the covering of the body (Vrtra)”. Thus, it is necessary to understand the meanings of the actions by other devas.
But the stark difference between “deva leela” and “bhagavad leela” is that the former always puts the deva in the place of the jIvAtma. In the above example, Indra was the jIvAtma and not paramAtma. But in the case of bhagavad leelAs, the inner meanings of rAma/krishNa/varAha’s actions always reveal the supremacy and other qualities of bhagavAn.
So, the general idea is this – the deeds of paramAtma, when analysed for its’ inner meanings, reveal paramAtma to be paramAtma. The deeds of anya-devata, when analysed for its’ inner meanings, reveal the deva to be a jIvAtma.
Similarly, Shiva is a deva and he too has performed certain deeds which appear to have inner meanings. Shaivas claim that the form and deeds of Shiva, such as the slaying of tripurAsuras, andhakAsura, etc are all indicative of his supremacy. This article will elaborate on the meanings of these “shiva-leelas” and show how they all reinforce the irrefutable conclusion that Shiva is a jIvAtma.
Meditation on the Form as “SubhAshrayatva” – The Criterion for Determining Supremacy
The shAstras recommend the meditation of that form, which is capable of removing the sins of the devotee and at the same time, grant knowledge of the Supreme Goal to the jIvAtma. Such a form is called “subhAshrayatva” or the substratum of infinitely auspicious attributes. This form is unique to Brahman while the forms possessed by jIvAs are a-subhAshraya.
In the vishNu purANa, srI parAshara maharishi identifies vishNu alone as the possessor of the form suitable for meditation. This is because his form, consisting of the divine ornaments and weapons, stand for various things which are to be meditated upon, and which confer liberation.
The forms of anya-devatas like Brahma, Rudra, Indra, etc also have several attributes and meanings, but these forms are a-subhAshraya, ie, they cannot remove the sins and confer supreme knowledge. This is evidenced by the fact that the forms of the devatas signify several things which are not associated with liberation, but with transmigration in samsAra. Whereas, the form of vishNu signifies the supreme characteristics of Brahman.
In other words, the form of any devata, for it to be considered as possessing Brahmatva and SubhAshrayatva, must:
  1. Be made of Suddha Sattva.
  2. Signify inner meanings that are attributes of the Supreme and worthy of upAsaNa. This is the litmus test for determining paratva.
The starting point is to describe what the form of vishNu is, and compare it to the form of shiva.
The form of vishNu and “SubhAshrayatva”
We already have a description of vishNu’s form in the astra-bhUshaNa adhyAya of vishNu purAna.  Quoting from sacred texts (rough translation is enough).
Having offered salutation to the mighty and indescribable Vishńu, I repeat to you what was formerly related to me by Vaśisht́ha. The glorious Hari wears the pure soul of the world (jIvAtma in its’ essential nature), undefiled, and void of qualities, as the Kaustubha gem. The chief principle of things (Pradhána) is seated on the eternal, as the Srivatsa mark. Intellect abides in Mádhava, in the form of his mace. The lord (Íśwara) supports egotism (Ahankára) in its twofold division, into elements and organs of sense, in the emblems of his conch-shell and his bow. In his hand Vishńu holds, in the form of his discus, the mind, whose thoughts (like the weapon) fly swifter than the winds. The necklace of the deity Vaijayantí, composed of five precious gems, is the aggregate of the five elemental rudiments. Janárddana bears, in his numerous shafts, the faculties both of action and of perception. The bright sword of Achyuta is holy wisdom, concealed at some seasons in the scabbard of ignorance. In this manner soul, nature, intellect, egotism, the elements, the senses, mind, ignorance, and wisdom, are all assembled in the person of Hrishikeśa. Hari, in a delusive form, embodies the shapeless elements of the world, as his weapons and his ornaments, for the salvation of mankind. Puńd́arikáksha, the lord of all, assumes nature, with all its products, soul and all the world. All that is wisdom, all that is ignorance, all that is, all that is not, all that is everlasting, is centred in the destroyer of Madhu, the lord of all creatures…”
As one can see, the kaustubha maNi signifies the true nature of the jIvAtma (seshatva to Brahman) which is pure on account of seshatva and is to be meditated upon as such. Thus, knowledge of seshatva to Brahman is obtained. The chakra represents the mind, which is obedient to Brahman, sharp and swift in its’ meditation on Brahman and cuts away ignorance. It should be meditated on as such. The mace kaumodaki signifies the expanded intellect. The sword nandaki, when unsheathed, signifies the knowledge of Brahman, which can be conceleaed by the scabbard to those who are unworthy. By having pradhAna as srivatsa, the aggregate of universal elements and organs as the conch and the bow, and the tanmAtrAs as the vaijayanti, bhagavAn shows that he has the Universe as his inseparable attribute.
An additional attribute is his lotus eyes. These eyes, according to thiruppAnAzhwar, are actually white in color, but have a number of red criss-crossing veins which make the eyes look red in entirety. The redness of his eyes comes from constantly looking at srI mahAlakshmi’s golden-red form at all times, that the red color has been etched on his eyes. It indicates that he will always listen to the Devi who is the mediator for all jIvAs.
Thus, by meditating on the form of vishNu, we get the knowledge of the essential nature of the self, the nature of the Universe (as being the inseparable attribute of vishNu) and these being dependent on and in the case of the jIvAtma, subservient to vishNu. Therefore, this form of infinite auspicious qualities indicates paratva and is subhAshraya.
The form of Shiva and Assessing its’ “SubhAshrayatva” or lack thereof
In contrast, let us now look at the meaning of Shiva’s form and see if it indicates Brahmatva or subhAshrayatva. We must take note that Shiva is the presiding deity of the mind and thus, his form is closely connected to the mind and its’ functions. Shiva is also a bhakti yOgI, which is represented by his form.
General Appearance: The meditative posture with matted locks and animal skin, etcis self-explanatory. Shiva is an upAsaka meditating on bhagavAn. Likewise, the mind of the jIvAtma must always be focused on bhagavAn. Just as the mind is not supreme by itself, neither is Shiva.Thus, paratvA is negated on account of these attributes indicating an upAsaka who by himself is not supreme.
He is the presiding deity of the mind as well as a foremost bhakti yOgi. That is to be remembered here.
Color: According to shAstras, he is nilalohita or blackish/bluish-red. This represents a mix of tAmas and rAjas with tAmas predominating. Similarly, the mind is also a mix of these guNas.The representation of rajas and tamas as his body color indicates he is not pure. In addition, there is no pramANa to suggest his form is suddha sattva, as opposed to nArAyaNa, whose body is black in color but is yet described as suddha sattva in many places.This meaning thus implies his body is not pure (suddha sattva) and unworthy of meditation.
Trishula: The trishUla has three prongs, each representing the tri-guNas, viz., sattva, rajas and tamas. “shUla” means death, which refers to samsAra as it is the place of death.  “shUla” also means grief. Shiva, the deity of the mind, is thus “shUla-brt” or “ShUlApAni”, meaning, themind bears or sustains the experiences of samsAra caused by the triguNas, which are responsible for grief. Just as Shiva pierces the asurAs with the trident, similary the mind afflicts the ignorant with the experiences arising from the triguNas.This meaning merely implies that the ignorant are subject to the distress of the triguNas and imparts no higher knowledge of Brahman, thus, this is not something worthy of meditation.
Damaru: The brihadAraNyaka Upanishad states that the drum is the objects of enjoyment and the act of beating the drum is the action of senses and sense organs. The sounds emanating from the drum are the experience of sense objects. Shiva is thus the mind, who instigates the act of beating the drum which are the indrIyAs. This enforces Shiva’s position as the presiding deity of the mind and he causes the jIvAs to experience objects of enjoyment in samsAra.Again, this meaning shows that the jIva is experiencing the objects of enjoyment, which is a samsAric trait and does not provide higher knowledge of the self, thus, not worthy of meditation.
The Graveyard and Ashes on the Body: Shiva roams the graveyard, smeared with ashes. The graveyard is the place of death and hence refers to samsAra. The ashes represent detachment or relinquishment of the body which is the vehicle for enjoyment of sense objects. Thus, he is a jIvAtma still roaming in samsAra, but detached or a renunciate due to his prowess in yOga. Similarly, the mind of a jIvAtma can be detached even in samsAra. As this meaning indicates only the detachment of a yOgI and no qualities of Brahman, this attribute is not relevant for those seeking to meditate on Brahman.
The Three Eyes: These represent the knowledge of the three vedas, essential for a jnAni, which destroy kAma (desire). Thus, the mind with knowledge of the Veda, destroys desire.Destruction of desire by knowledge of the Vedas is the trait of a jIvAtma and not paramAtma, and hence, this is also not a quality relevant to the highest meditation.
Matted Hair and Moon: He is an upAsaka, and the heat of his penances towards bhagavAn is indicated by his matted locks. However, the meditation on bhagavAn is very cool and graceful despite the arduous efforts, which is signified by the cool moon on his head. Similarly, the cool mind that meditates on bhagavAn is adorned.This again, is the characteristic of a jIvAtma and not paramAtma, and hence, is not worthy of meditation.
The Pinaka Bow and Ganga: “pinAka” means “drinking or experiencing (pi-) the supreme abode (nAka)”. He is “pinAka-pANi” or the holder or bearer of that supreme abode (ie, the knowledge of the auspicious attributes of bhagavAn) which is experienced. This is connected to the fact that he bears the Ganga which flows from the feet of vishNu, as per the rk “visnoH paramE padE madhva utsa:”. Similarly, the mind experiences the bliss of bhagavad kalyAna guNas by meditation.
Also, “pinAka hasta” means he bestows the experience of the supreme abode to the others. As he teaches others regarding knowledge of vishNu, and just as the mind bestows the experience of the supreme abode to the jIvAtma.
This attribute of Shiva is that of a guru. Devotionto Shiva in order to attain knowledge of Brahman is recommended by the shAstras and the rudra gAyatri and thus, in that limited context, this meaning is relevant for meditation. But this again, is not the supreme meditation.
The Skull: He bears the skull as a result of a curse and is called “kapAla-hasta” or “kapAlin”. “kam” can mean “bliss” or “desire”. Since he received the skull as a curse, it refers to desire here. “kapAla” thus means “keeper or protector of desire”. “kapAla-hasta” means bestower of that which protects desire.“protect desires” means to fulfil desires by experience of sense objects.
This has the following meanings. Shiva is “kapAla” as he protects desire, ie, he himself is susceptible to desire, being a jIvAtma. He also protects desires of others as he gives petty boons to fulfill the desires of men and asurAs which are temporary. He is “kapAla-hasta” as he, being the presiding deity, bestows the mind which protects desire. The mind is the protector of desires as it fulfils experience of material objects. The skull and the blood itself are not auspicious things, showing that the material objects desired are not pure.Fulfilling impure material desires is the exact opposite of the object of the highest meditation and thus, this attribute is also not an auspicious one, being unworthy of meditation.
The Snakes: vAsuki and nAgAbharaNas represent actions prescribed by the shAstras for karma yOgA. They are representedas snakes because if a person desires the fruits of the action, he attains svarga and is subject to transmigration. Thus, the fruits of these actions are like the poison or bite of the snake which keep one in samsAra. However, Shiva wears these snakes as an ornament indicating that he performs these actions as part of karma yOga, without desire for the fruits. Desireless action, is thus, beneficial and thus, an ornament. But again, this particular trait is that of a jIvAtma who is a karma yOgI and is not fit to be meditated upon by those undertaking paramAtma upAsaNa.
The bluish/black neck: The significance of the hAla-hAla viSha will be explained later in the article.  For now, it can be explained that the bluish/black color again denotes the tamas of the mind which experiences sense objects. Again, this is a meaning not worthy of meditation.
Parvati/Uma as his half: “Uma” signifies “yaShas”, which is possessed by a yOgi. This is again, an attribute of an enlightened jIvAtma and hence is not worthy of meditation.
Names: Various names like “Shiva”, “Rudra”, “Pashupati”, “Umapati”, “Sharva”, “NilakaNtha”, “sreekaNtha” etc can be applied to describe the jIvAtma as well as the mind. We have already covered this elsewhere in the blog, no need to go in-depth here.The names are not worthy of meditation as they have no significant connotations, unless applied to vishNu (as these are also his names).
Thus, the form of Shiva proves – 1) He is a jIvAtma and a bhakti yOgi who is not completely disassociated from the influence of the triguNas, 2) He is the presiding deity of the mind, 3) His body is not fit to be meditated as “subhAshraya” or the substratum of auspicious attributes.
This is in contrast to vishNu’s body, where each and every feature indicates supremacy and subhAshrayatva. Not just Shiva, but we can do this with any devata like Indra, Brahma, etc. None of them compare to sriman nArAyaNa.
The Deeds of Shiva – Inner Meanings
We have seen the example of srI krishNa eating butter to understand that the acts of the Lord have several deep meanings. Similarly, the actions of devas like Indra, Brahma, Rudra, etc also have meanings. The difference is that, unlike that of vishNu, the inner meanings of the acts of Shiva and other devas reveal these devas to be jIvAs. In contrast, inner meanings of vishNu leelas reveal bhagavAn to be the supreme.
Here, we have examined each of the “leelas” that Shiva performed and shown how all of them indicate that he is a jIvAtma performing bhakti yOga.
This story is well-known and is narrated in the Bhagavatam and other major purAnAs. We do not need to reproduce it.
Shaivas claim that the destruction of Daksha yajna signifies that Shiva is supreme, since the yajna was destroyed as a consequence of not offering him a share. In refutation, we show the inner meanings of the incident, which highlight his status as a jIvAtma
  1. Destruction of Daksha’sSacrifice (Inner Meaning: Stopping the actions of the senses):

“Daksha” means “skillful and is used to denote the mind which skillfully leads the jIvAtma to experience sense objects. “Sacrifice” is a metaphor for actions undertaken by the indrIyAs upon command of the mind. Thus, “daksha yajna” refers to the actions of the senses and the destruction of this yajna is nothing but the destruction of the actions committed by the skilled mind, ie, quelling the activities of the senses to attain detachment.

Daksha is also known as “PrajApati” which could be taken as mind, which is the leader of the prajAs or the indrIyAs.

  1. Shiva unleashes Veerabhadra (Inner Meaning: jIvAtmA undertakes upAsaNa):

One can question, why doesn’t Shiva destroy the sacrifice directly by himself and instead creates Veerabhadra for the purpose? The answer is in the inner meaning,. “Veerabhadra” means “Auspicious Strength”. This “strength” is a metaphor for knowledge. Thus, “Veerabhadra” means “Auspicious Knowledge” which is nothing but upAsaNa or meditation on the self. Thus, it refers to bhakti yOga.

Shiva used Veerabhadra as the means to destroy the sacrifice of Daksha. Similarly, the jIvAtma uses “auspicious knowledge” or meditation on the self to destroy the actions of the skillful indrIyAs.

  1. Nandi takes downBhaga and Veerabhadra tears out his two eyes (Inner meaning: Cessation of Pain and Pleasure through Karma Yoga and UpAsaNa)

Nandi, the Bull, defeated Bhaga. The bull stands for dharma, which in the present context indicates performance of duties stipulated by the shAstrAs. Thus, Nandi represents karma yOga or desireless actions, which are an ancillary for upAsaNa.

One meaning of “Bhaga” is“affection” which can be taken as attachments. It refers toattachments arising from experience of the objects of enjoyment. The sacrifice of Daksha refers to the actions of the indrIyAs, with “bhaga” being the attachments to sense objects. The two eyes of “Bhaga” refer to the experiences of pain and pleasure arising from such attachment.

The bull stopped Bhaga while Veerabhadra tore out his two eyes. “Taking away the two eyes of bhaga" thus implies removing the pleasure and pain experiences (denoted by two eyes) arising due to attachment(bhaga) which is the result of actions by the indrIyAs, ie, the results of the actions.  

Thus, “Nandi stopped Bhaga and Veerabhadra took away the two eyes of Bhaga” means “by virtue of desireless action or karma yOgA (Nandi),attachment to sense objects (Bhaga) was quelled and by virtue of the upAsaNa (Veerabhadra), the twin experiences of pain and pleasure (two eyes) were destroyed”.

  1. Maniman stops Bhrigu and Veerabhadra tears away Bhrigu’s moustache (Inner Meaning: Removal of ego and actions of the indrIyAs)

“manimAn” – This can literally mean “contemplation on the ornament”. The ornament is the essential nature of the self and contemplation on the self through jnAna yOga brings about theknowledge that one is subservient to Brahman and must relinquish the idea of ownership (mamakAra).

“Bhrigu” – “bharati (bhR) + gavate (gu)” – That which rules over (bhR) the earth or the embodied self associated with the body (gu). This refers to the indrIyAs which control the embodied jIvAtma. These indrIyAs cause delusion in the form of identifying oneself with the body and resulting in ahamkAra and mamakAra. Bhrigu was the rishi offering oblations in the Daksha Yajna. Similarly, the indrIyAs execute the actions commanded by the mind.

“manimAn stopped Bhrigu” means “Knowledge of the essential nature of the self (gained by jnAna yOga) stopped or quelled the indrIyAs from wandering towards sense objects.

“Veerabhadra tore out the Moustache of Bhrigu” – Veerabhadra as mentioned before signifies bhakti yOga. The moustache of bhrigu is a symbol of masculinity and pride. Thus, it means using bhakti yOga (veerabhadra), the pride or ahamkAra and mamakAra (moustache) arising from the indrIyAs (bhrigu) is removed.

jnAna yOga (manimAn) stops the indrIyas (bhrigu) from acting and is an ancillary for upAsaNa (veerabhadra) which removes the notions of mamakAra and ahamkAra (moustache).

  1. Chandesha stops Pusha and Veerabhadra knocks out his teeth (Inner Meaning: Removal of desire)

“Chandesha” –“Chanda” refers to passion or desire. “Chandesha” thus means ruling over or overcoming/resisting desire.

Nandi, maNimAn and Chandesha are associates of Veerabhadra. By virtue of karma yOgA (Nandi) which is the performance of desireless action and jnAna yOga (maNimAn) which is contemplation of the self, the qualities of “sama” and “dama”are cultivated which lead to rising above desire (chandesha). These are the accessories of bhakti yOga (veerabhadra).

“Pusha” - That which nourishes. This refers todesires which cause attachment (bhaga), nourish the mind (Daksha) and the indrIyAs (bhrigu).

“Veerabhadra knocks out the teeth of Pushan” – Teeth signify eating. Desire leads to experience of sense objects. Thus, knocking out the teeth imply rendering desire impotent in the ability to cause experience of sense objects. In other words, no longer does any sense object hold an attraction.

“Chandesha stops pushan and veerabhadra knocks out his teeth” - The qualities of sama and dhama cultivated causes the self to rise above desire and resist its’ urge. Bhakti Yoga (Veerabhadra) destroys the ability of desire in totality, ie, complete disregard for experience of sense objects.

  1. Daksha’s head severed

Daksha represents the wayward mind which leads the jIvAtma to experience of sense objects. Veerabhadra severed the head of Daksha using the sacrificial tools, making Daksha himselfthe sacrifice.

This only means that by virtue of upAsaNa, the mind, which is associated with anger or attachments, is itself offered as sacrifice in self-surrender to paramAtma. The nyAsa vidyA of the Upanishads declares that anger is the animal to be sacrificed in the yajna of self-surrender.

  1. Resurrection of the Devas by Rudra

After all this is over, Rudrapardons the devas and resurrects Daksha with the head of a goat (Aja-mukham siraH). He instructs Bhaga to see through the eyes of Mitra. Pushan can eat only ground foodor flour (pishta).

The meaning is as follows – Having destroyed the wayward actions of the mind and the indrIyAs, the jIvAtma undertaking bhakti yOga now uses the same mind and indrIyAs in a constructive manner, to aid its’ upAsaNa as follows:.

“Daksha with the head of a goat” – “Aja” means goat, but also means “mover” (aj- signifies movement). The mind should now move towards paramAtma, that is the significance.

“Bhaga sees through the eyes of Mitra” – As mentioned earlier, “Bhaga” refers to attachments. “Mitra” means “Sun” and refers to the jIvAtma with luminous intellect. Alternatively, it could also denote the knowledge of the Supreme Brahman which illumines like the sun. The idea is that, from now on, the jIvAtma indulging in bhakti yOga shall always be attached to the essential nature of the self or the Supreme Brahman which is like the sun and nothing else. This is echoed in the BrihadAraNyaka Upanishad where yAjnavalkya says the self is dearer than anything else, etc.

“Pushan chews only dough by himself” – “Pushan” as mentioned earlier, signifies desire. “eating” refers to experience. By saying Pushan shall only eat ground food or flour, it is meant that desire should no longer be used to enjoy sense-objects. However, as long as the bhakti yOgi is in samsAra, experience of sense-objects is allowed to the extent permitted in the shAstras and must also be devoid of the enjoyment arising from desire. That is to say, the yogi can continue to accumulate wealth, eat food and get married, but all these should not be done for the sake of enjoyment. Wealth should be accumulated to the extent required to sustain one’s needs and no more. Food should be eaten only to the extent required to sustain life and upAsaNa. Marriage is for performing vaidika kAryas.

This concludes the inner meanings of Daksha Yajna. The whole episode shows shiva is a bhakti yogi and hence a jivatma only. There is no indication of supremacy as claimed by the Shaivas, in fact it’s quite the opposite.
In the Sauptika Parva of the Mahabharata, Sri Krishna gives a different account of a Yajna destroyed by Rudra (likely due to yuga bhEda). The meaning for this incident differs greatly from the Daksha Yajna described in the Bhagavatam. We have provided the inner meaning for this as well.
The “text” parts are the actual quotes (using sacred texts for rough translation). The explanation gives the inner meaning:
Text:Not knowing Rudra truly, the celestials, O king, assigned no share for the divine Sthanu. Seeing that the celestials assigned to him no share in the sacrificial offerings, Sthanu, clad in deer skins, desired to destroy that Sacrifice and with that object constructed a bow. There are four kinds of Sacrifices: the loka Sacrifice, the Sacrifice of special rites, the eternal domestic Sacrifice, and the Sacrifice consisting in the gratification derived by man from his enjoyment of the five elemental substances and their compounds. It is from these four kinds of Sacrifice that the universe has sprung. Kapardin constructed that bow using as materials the first and the fourth kinds of Sacrifices. The length of that bow was five cubits. The sacred (mantra) "vashat," O Bharata, was made its string. The four parts, of which a Sacrifice consists, became the adornments of that bow.”
Explanation: The significant difference between this and the other Daksha yajna is that the inner meanings are different.Thedevassignify the indrIyAs. The issue of the devas not inviting Rudra signifies that the indrIyAs commenced to perform actions without the directions of the jIvAtma.
The sacrifice performed here has a dual meaning. On one level, it signifies actions undertaken by the indrIyAs (devas), which of course, is opposed to the jIvAtma (Rudra). The sacrifice also denotes vishNu here, when Rudra strikes him below, as per “yajno vai vishNu”. More on that below.
The names “Sthanu” and “Kapardin” signify Rudra is the jIvAtma who is firm (Sthanu) in Yoga and has matted locks signifying his upAsaNa.
The bow of Rudra signifies the knowledge of the Upanishads. As we know, in other versions, it was Veerabhadra who signified bhakti yOga. Here, though, Veerabhadra is replaced by the bow which according to the shAstra signifies knowledge.
Bhagavan srI krishNa says that Rudra’s bow was constructed from the “Loka Sacrifice” and the sacrifice which is the enjoyment of the five elements. “loka” means shAstra. “Sacrifice” denotes action. “loka yajna” thus signifies actions prescribed by the shAstra, which is karma yOga. The other sacrifice is constituted by the experiences of the senses, viz., pain and pleasure.
So, the knowledge (Bow) possessed by Rudra (the upAsaka) is two-fold: the knowledge of the actions prescribed in the shAstras and the knowledge of the experiences of material sense gratification. The former is to be performed by the upAsaka, and the latter is to be rejected.This tallies with the dual meanings of sacrifice – it refers to both vishNu as well as actions of the indrIyAs. Thus, knowledge of both is necessary. The “Omkara” or meditation on the supreme is the bowstring.
Text:Then Mahadeva, filled with rage, and taking up that bow, proceeded to that spot where the celestials were engaged in their Sacrifice……...The celestials, overwhelmed, knew not what to do. Their Sacrifice ceased to blaze forth. The gods were all terrified. Rudra then pierced the embodiment of Sacrifice with a fierce shaft in the heart. The embodied form of Sacrifice, assuming the shape of a deer, fled away, with the god of fire. Approaching heaven in that form, he blazed forth in beauty. Rudra, however, O Yudhishthira, pursued him through the skies. After Sacrifice had fled away, the gods lost their splendour. Having lost their senses, the gods were stupefied.”
Explanation: “Mahadeva” refers to he who has great intellect (for yoga). The bow is knowledge. The arrow refers to the mind. The embodiment of Sacrifice is Parabrahman, who is vishNu. This is as per the analogy provided in the MundakOpanishad.
Rudra, the jIvA, using the knowledge of the Upanishads (bow) and the arrow (mind sharpened with meditation), pierces Parabrahman who is vishNu (yajna). But despite the success of his upAsaNa, he is unable to attain Brahman, who flees.
This act ofn “destroying sacrifice” is to be taken on two levels as per the dual meanings of Rudra’s bow. The bow has two components: One is knowledge of the experiences of samsAra and corresponding to that, Rudra pierces sacrifice which signifies destruction of the actions of the indrIyAs. The other component is the knowledge of the Upanishads, which corresponds to the sacrifice being the embodiment of vishNu, who is the target of upAsaNa. Thus, both meanings are embedded in this complicated incident.
It is accepted by the great Sri Vaishnava AchArya, srI koorathAzhwan, that vishNu, the embodiment of sacrifice, indeed fled away from Rudra in this incident. However, this was purely a leela of vishNu. After all, the Upanishads say that Brahman is the target to be pierced by the jIvAtma’s mind. Hence, the inner meaning of the incident only shows vishNu as the Brahman and his act of “fleeing” Rudra after having been pierced by the latter is only in play and to ensure this inner meaning is justified.
The relevant sloka of koorathazhwan is in AthimAnusha Stava as follows:
yasya AatmatAm tripura bhangavidhou adhAstvam tvat sakti tEjita SarO vijayee ca yO abhUt |
daksha kratou tu kila tEna vinirjitastvam yuktO vidhEya vishayEshu hi kaamacAra: ||
Oh Lord of matchless KaaruNyam! In the battle of Rudran against the ThripurAsurans, You stayed as the arrow in the bow of Rudran, empowered Rudran thru anupravEsam (inner presence) and helped Rudran destroy the three asurans. Your valour and Parathvam was very clearly revealed here. In the Yaj~nam of Daksha prajApathy, You pretended however as though You were frightened by the ferocity of Veerabhadran sent by Rudran and ran away from the Yaj~nam taking the form of a crow. How can we relate this odd behavior with Your Parathvam?
Note that in this version referenced by the AchArya, the bow is replaced again by Veerabhadra. The meanings do not change. “Veerabhadra” means “auspicious valor/strength” and hence refers to knowledge again. vishNu flees as a crow instead of a deer. Minor changes in recensions, it can be supposed.
Why did vishNu flee? Because Bhakti Yoga, is a path that uses self-effort due to the ego of the jIvAtma. ParamAtma is thus not fond of this path, but since it is prescribed by the shAstra, he reluctantly allows it. But this bhakti yOga, being a flawed path, is not enough to conquer paramAtma despite the arrow (mind) striking (meditating on) the target (yajna/paramAtma). This is signified by vishNu fleeing the scene.
Thus, Rudra’s upAsaNa has failed. Since sacrifice pierced by Rudra has the two-fold meaning of signifying the actions of the indrIyAs as well as vishNu himself, it can be said that bhakti yOga had the two-fold effect of moderate success in  the extent that it quelled some of the wayward actions, but ultimately was unsuccessful in attaining paramAtma.
Text: “Then the three-eyed Mahadeva, with his bow, broke in rage the arms of Savitri, and plucked out the eyes of Bhaga and the teeth of Pushana. The gods then fled away, as also all the several parts of Sacrifice. Some amongst them, reeling as they sought to fly away, fell down senseless. The blue-throated Rudra, having agitated them thus, laughed aloud, and whirling the horn of his bow, paralysed them.”
Explanation: Seeing that his upAsaNa has failed, Rudra takes measures to rectify the errors.
Rudra subdues the indrIyAs (devas). Two eyes of Bhaga as mentioned before signify pain and pleasure arising from attachments. Pushan, as mentioned before again, refers to desires which cause attachment (bhaga). Rudra thus quelled experiences of pain and pleasure and also the desires which cause attachment.
“SavitR” means “prompter of the intellect” and refers to the mind. The arms of the mind represent its’ power or control which is ego. Rudra thus removed ahamkAra which is always present in traces for a bhakti yOgi in the form of self-effort – “I performed this upAsaNa”, which is ownership of effort and ego in delighting in one’s strength while doing it.
The reason why his upAsaNa failed (vishNu fleeing) was obviously because he had not done the above completely earlier, as these experiences/desire are a product of the ahamkAra brought upon by bhakti yOga.
Text: The devas then uttered a cry. At their command, the string of the bow broke. The string having broken, the bow became stretched into a line.
Explanation: The indrIyAs (devas) interrupted the meditation, ie, upAsaNa (bowstring). This is done with the permission of the jIvAtma (rudra) as clearly, they could not have accomplished it otherwise. Thus, it signifies that the jIvAtma (Rudra) discards bhakti yOga as a useless path, upon its’ failure.
Note that it is only the bowstring and not the bow which is destroyed. The two-fold knowledge of Brahman to be attained and sense enjoyments to be discarded, signified by the two components of the bow, remain with the jIvAtma. The arrow (mind sharpened with meditation) is intact. However, the bowstring (meditation) signifies the self-effort of the jIvAtma, which is now discarded.
Text:The gods then approached the bowless god of gods and, with the embodied form of Sacrifice, sought the protection of the puissant Mahadeva and endeavoured to gratify him.
Explanation: Now, as explained before, Rudra has defeated desire (pushan), attachments (bhaga) and the mind (savitR). He has controlled his indrIyAs (devas) and also discarded the self-effort of meditation.
Immediately, the embodied form of sacrifice, that is vishNu, comes back! Without any effort of the jIvAtma, bhagavAn has come back. Thus, rather than self-effort, it is the abandonment of self-effort that gets us close to paramAtma. This is prapatti.
So now, paramAtma signified by sacrifice, attained by prapatti which is the relinquishment of self-effort, guides the indrIyAs (devas) of the jIvAtma (rudra) to seek protection, ie, surrender, to the jIvAtma. In other words, a prapanna does not need self-effort to control the indrIyAs completely. BhagavAn himself, who is known as “hrShikEsha”, being the means, brings the indrIyAs of the prapanna under the latter’s control, so that they never again lead him astray. All the effort in prapatti is undertaken by paramAtma. All that is required by the jIvAtma (Rudra) is relinquishment.
It should not be taken as sacrifice (vishNu) praying to Rudra. Rather, vishNu guides the devas (indrIyAs) here to submit to Rudra.
Text: Gratified, the great god threw his wrath into the water, O king, that wrath, assuming the form of fire, is always employed in consuming that liquid element. He then gave unto Savitri his arms, Bhaga his eyes, and Pushana his teeth.
Explanation: Having the indrIyAs under his control (permanently as opposed to controlling with self-effort) and having performed prapatti to the Lord, the wrath of the jIvAtma (rudra) is cast into the “waters” which signify the subtle elements, ie, the body. In other words, as long as the prapanna is alive in that body, his anger is directed towards that body which is responsible for all misery and thus, he is always contemplating on it with dispassion and detachment.
Rudra then restored the arms of SavitR (mind), the eyes of Bhaga and the teeth of Pushan.
Ie, the prapanna now allows the mind (savitR) to act, as the mind now moves only towards paramAtma.
He now experiences pain and pleasure (the two eyes of Bhaga) in the form of vislEsha (separation) and samslEsha (togetherness) with paramAtma. If a jnAni is away from paramAtma for a minute, he suffers. Otherwise, he is blissful. This is due to attachment (Bhaga) with paramAtma. These twin experiences are of course, allowed as per shAstra.
The teeth of Pushan are restored. In other words, the quality of desire (pushan) is allowed to function, as it is desire in the form of love towards paramAtma.
Text: And he also restored the Sacrifices themselves, O Pandava! The world once more became safe and sound. The gods assigned unto Mahadeva all the libations of clarified butter as the share of that great deity.
Explanation:The sacrifices represent the actions undertaken by those in samsAra. The yogi now performs all these as services to please paramAtma as opposed  to using them as self-effort to attain paramAtma. “Mahadeva” again refers to the great intellect of the prapanna (Rudra).
Clarified butter represents the auspicious attributes of paramAtma perceived by the indrIyAs (devas), and relayed to the jIvAtma (Rudra).
A third incident involving Rudra and his bow occurs in the Taittiriya Aranyaka. By now, the meanings must be clear, so we will not elaborate on this incident. However, this incident of Rudra’s head being severed has been referenced by Swami Nampillai, a great sri vaishnava acharya, in his Eedu vyAkhyAna.
A bhakta has uploaded the portion of Eedu containing Swami Nampillai’s beautiful explanation. One can read it here.:
The story is well known. The simple inner meaning is thatShiva represents the jIvAtma doing upAsaNa.The third eye is the knowledge of Brahman which destroys lust.
In this incident too, Shiva represents a bhakti yOgi. No supremacy can be seen in either the inner or superficial meanings of the incident.
This is a very simple meaning. Shiva represents the yOgI, who destroys ignorance/darkness of prakrti (Andhaka) by virtue of upAsaNa that is bhakti yOga. It does not have a trace of supremacy embedded in it as a meaning.
The sAttvika texts add that when Shiva killed Andhaka, many more asuras sprung forth from the blood of the dead asura and started attacking him. Shiva then surrendered to nArAyaNa, who created a creature that drank up the asurA’s blood and saved Shiva.
The full meaning then, is this: The yogi (Shiva) destroys ignorance of prakrti (Andhaka) through upAsaNa. However, upAsaNa is driven by self effort and hence is not sufficient to overpower prakrti or ignorance. Realising this, the yogi (Shiva) surrenders to the supreme Brahman, nArAyaNa, accepting the latter as the direct means (prapatti). This results in complete removal of prakrti or ignorance.
The supremacy of nArAyaNa, the superiority of prapatti as a means to liberation and the jIvatva of Shiva are clearly seen here.
The samudra mathanam is a leela of vishNu. Yet we have Rudra playing a role in the drinking of the poison, therefore we have included it here. The inner meanings are as follows:
  • The devas and asuras represent punya and papa karmas

  • The ocean represents the Vedas

  • The mandara refers to the intellect. Sri Vaishnava vidwans compare the intellect of swami manavAla mAmunigal to the mandara and the ocean to the shastra. The intellect is used to discern the meanings of the shAstra.

  • Kurma represents the indriyas which are controlled (all 5 limbs inside the shell - the gita gives this example). The controlled indrIyas are the locus of the intellect which is used for upAsaNa just as kurma bears the mandara.

  • The actual churning of the ocean is the performance of various actions dictated by the shAstra. The devas and asurAs churning the ocean (shAstra) are the puNya and pApa karmas. The idea is that it is the karmas which dictate the sAdhana of an individual and his preference for the various fruits of the shAstra.

  • Ajita who churns the ocean is called upon when the devas and asuras become fatigued. This means that punya and papa by themselves cannot yield results - it is the grace of bhagavan that allots results to punya and his anger yields the results of papa. This thus refutes the pUrva mimAmsa theories that there is no requirement for iSvara in vedanta. It is Ajita who also uses the mandara to churn - thus showing he is the prompter of the intellect as well as the indirect means for any sAdhana

  • vAsuki, the snake used to churn, represents karma yOga which is an ancillory to jnAna yOga that is intellect represented by mandara. The snake was used to churn meaning it was the tool of actions that is karma yoga.

  • The asuras wanted to grasp the front portion of the snake as they thought it was auspicious as opposed to the rear end and were burnt by the flames as a result. Similarly our pApa karmas (asuras) impel us to perform actions (vAsuki) for a desired result (the desire of the nectar in the case of the asuras). The flames of vAsuki represent the suffering due to attachment to results, brought upon by the pApa karmas.

  • In contrast, the devas grasped the tail end of the snake on the instruction of bhagavan because they were detached from the result. Our punya karmas (devas) allow us to follow the directions of bhagavAn (Ajita) perform karma yoga (vAsuki) without desire (tail of the snake), ie desireless action for knowledge of the self.

  • The various items from the ocean represent various puruSarthas. Sri Mahalakshmi represents the true purushartha of the Vedas which is the wealth of service - she is wedded to vishNu - similarly the true fruit of the Vedas attained by sAdhana is seshatvam which must be towards nArAyaNa alone, like exclusive marriage

  • The poison, hAla hAla refers to the attachments to sense objects. "viSham" also means "water" which can connote the subtle elements that constitute objects of enjoyment causing attachments.
  • Rudra is the mind that is associated with the attachments leading to pain and pleasureand therefore, it is Rudra who consumes the poison.

  • However, the mind which is bent towards Brahman will not be affected by attachments just as Rudra consumed the poison effortlessly by the grace of paramAtma without experiencing discomfort

  • Rudra acquired a bluish black neck. Similarly, the mind has tamO guNa which is signified by "nIla". But since Rudra meditated on nArAyaNa, the mark on his neck did not become a deformity but was an ornament. Similarly the mind bent towards Brahman will still have tamO guNa but it will be impotent like the mark on Rudra's neck and is merely a vyAja to remain in samsAra until moksha.

With this, the question is also answered as to why vishNu did not directly consume the poison and instead made Rudra drink it. The inner meaning itself shows that only the mind can be associated with attachments signified by the poison and Rudra is the presiding deity of the mind. paramAtma is blemishless and will not be subject to such attachments. However, being the inner self of all, he is the one who, having the mind as his body, causes the mind to be associated with such attachments.

According to all sAttvika texts, it appears that the kapAla moksha occurred immediately after the events of Tripura samhAra and must be taken together.
The stories are well known. Rudra defeated the tripurAsurAs and became great among the gods. The texts say that this feat made him proud and arrogant. It was this arrogance which made him cut off one of the heads of Brahma. Though it is true that pArvati mistook Brahma for Rudra, it was the latter’s pride which made him act in excess and incur brahma hatya doSha.
Rudra was humbled by the curse of Brahma whereby the skull got stuck to his hands. It is said that he then surrendered to sriman nArAyaNa who mercifully freed him from the curse.
Shaivas claim that both these incidents prove the supremacy of Rudra. However, the inner meanings of both these incidents say otherwise. Tripura Samhara represents bhakti yoga while Kapala Moksha represents Prapatti.
The meanings of the Tripura Samhara have already been provided elsewhere on the blog. For continuity’s sake, we reproduce the write-up on Tripura Samhara here again:
  • The whole incident of Tripura samhAram has the inner meaning of upAsanam, ie bhakti yOgam.

  • The intent of upAsaNa is aimed to destroy samsArA or prakrti known as “mAya” in shAstra. The three cities were built by the asura known as “Maya”.

  • This samsArA is due to prakrti (mAyA) that consists of sattvam, rajas and tamas. Transcending these gunams is the aim. The three cities of gold, silver and iron correspond to the three guNas.

  • Shiva is the jivAtma, referred to as Hara and Bhava, who tries to kill the three cities of sattva, rajas, tamas using upAsaNam.

  • “Bhava” means he produces intellect. “Hara” is an epithet of the jIvAtma that indulges in the objects of prakrti as per the svetAsvatAra upanishad. Both these terms denote the jIvAtma and hence, Rudra.

  • The various powers granted by gods and the weapons Rudra acquires for the destruction of TripurasurAs represent the strength required for the arduous path of bhakti yOga

  • The texts say that vishNu assisted Rudra by first taking away the puNya of the asuras’ wife and by the AvEsha in Rudra (visnor cAtma bhagavatO bhavaH amita tejasaH). This represents the fact that bhagavAn is the indirect means for upAsaNa, with self effort being the actual means.

  • The reference to vedas as chariot, brahma as charioteer, OmkAram as bow, etc represent the need for shAstra jnAnam, achAryan, pranavOpAsanam etc as ancillaries for bhakti yOga.

  • Rudra wanted someone senior to him (Brahma) to drive the chariot. This signifies the necessity of an AchAryan (Brahma) to guide the intellect (reins) of the jIvAtma (Shiva) and drive the chariot (ie, understand the vedas for performing upAsaNa). This incident also shows Brahma is superior to Shiva.

  • It is said that the devas were not able to bear half the power of Shiva, so they gave half their power to Shiva. This has the inner meaning that the upAyam of bhakti yOga, ie, upAsaNa (indicated by the devas) is insentient by itself and requires the power of the chEtana (indicated by pArvati pati). As opposed to this, those who adopt BhagavAn Vishnu himself as an upAyam have a sentient upAyam (namely, bhagavAn). But even this upAsaNa requires the grace of Vishnu as an indirect form which is indicated by the various assistances he provided to pArvati pati.

  • Rudra attains the name “paShupati”. It means “Lord of paShus”. The “paShus” here represent indrIyAs as “paShu” refers to anger or attachment in the shAstra, which in turn can refer to indrIyAs closely associated with attachments. By this name, it is indicated that Rudra, the yOgi, has subdued his indrIyAs. This is a requirement for upAsaNa.

  • It is said that the arrow or its tip was Agni and Soma. This ‘Agni’ is indicative of the offering of ‘namaha’, essential to sacrifice.

  • The ‘Soma’ here is explained as follows – the chAndogya Upanishad refers to the jivA as ‘sOmarAjA’, ie, one who enjoys sOmA. So, ‘sOmA’ refers to the objects of enjoyment in the universe, ie, long age, health, wealth, etc. As these are crucial for success of upAsaNa, along with the offering of namaha, the mahAbhArata says, ‘agni sOmAtmakam jagath’ with reference to the arrow. The same mahAbhAratA also says the jagath is filled with Vishnu in the next line, which indicates his pervasion of agni and sOma as well.

  • During the battle, Rudra’s chariot falls, upon which vishNu takes avatAra as a bull, allowing Rudra to stand on him and fight. The bull stands for dharma, which in turn signifies upAya or prapatti. The inner meaning is that even upAsaNa cannot be completed without bhagavAn as the indirect and true means (dharma), and that prapatti is required for destruction of sins prior to commencement of upAsaNa. Even for bhakti yOgA, bhagavAn is the true means as opposed to the jIvAtma’s efforts.

  • The jivAtmA, ie, Shiva, shoots the arrow. The arrow tip is vishNu, who is the indirect upAyam for this upAsaNam. Agni is the propitiation offered to him in the form of `namaha', Garuda, the bhagavad vAhana, is the speed. And the act of unleashing that arrow is the small effort undertaken by the yogi.

  • The triguNa/three cities are destroyed by the arrow/parabrahman and the upAsaNa is completed by Parabrahman after the chEtanan has completed his self effort.

The inner meanings of kapAla moksha are described below:
  • When a yOgi performs bhakti yOga, he attains ahamkAra. Despite sAttvika tyAga, there is still an inherent “I-ness” present in upAsaNa due to the individual self-effort. It is a tainted means as it is not completely devoid of ahamkAra. The analogy is if you suck out all the poison (ahamkAra) with a dropper (upAsaNa), a small drop of poison may be left behind. Similarly, Rudra, after accomplishing trupura samhAra/conquering triguNas, was filled with pride.

  • Rudra committed brahma hatya apachAra and the kapAla stuck to his hands. As we have seen earlier, “kapAla” means keeper or protector of desire”. To “protect desires” means to fulfil desires by experience of sense objects. Thus, it means that due to ahamkAra, the yogi relapses back into attachments to sense objects

  • Rudra surrendered to nArAyaNa to get rid of the skull. Similarly, as per “bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate”, ie, after many auspicious births of doing upAsaNa, the chEtana realizes that prapatti, which is accepting bhagavAn as the direct and true means to liberation and discarding all self-effort, is alone the most effective method, suited to the nature of the jIvAtma. Thus, the chEtana surrenders to bhagavAn for true liberation from attachments and for moksha.
The azhwars always refer to the incident of kapAla moksha whenever they want to highlight how bhagavAn removed the sorrow of Rudra, despite the fact that bhagavAn has helped Rudra in various other situations like bhasmAsura vadham, etc. The reason is because this incident brings out the glory of prapatti.
Indeed, in Thirukkurundandakam, Thirumangai Azhwar describes Bhakti Yoga vividly in a manner similar to the 7th anuvAka of srI rudram (refer the article for meanings) and ends with “meymmaiyE kANkiR pArE”. Then, immediately the next pAsuram is “pindiyAr mandai yenthi…”describing how Rudra was liberated from the skull by the grace of bhagavAn. This continuity shows azhwar regarded this incident as indicative of the failings of bhakti yOga and the nature of prapatti as the true means.
We end the section with bhagavAn srI krishNa’s description of shiva in the mahabhArata. When Arjuna asks krishNa about the nature of shiva, bhagavAn replies:
kapardI jatilo mundaH shmashAnagR^ihasevakaH ugravratadharo rudro yogI tripuradAruNaH dakShakratuharashchaiva bhaga netraharastathA
Sri Krishna says: [Rudra has] braided hair with knot of an ascetic and rest of the head bald. He dwells in the home of graveyard, steadfast on vigorous penance as a yogi. He is ferocious to tripurasuras, destroyed dakshayajna and took away the eyes of Bhaga.
To the laymen, it might seem strange that when Arjuna asks “what is Rudra’s nature compared to you (KrishNa), that bhagavAn answers with a description of Rudra’s exploits rather than a straightforward “he is a jIvAtma, lower to me”. However, Based on this article, we know that what srI krishNa really means is this:
“Rudra is detached from sense enjoyment on account of his shaven head (which signifies detachment). Being detached, he dwells in samsAra (graveyard), performing bhakti yOga (signified by the knot of an ascetic). Since he is performing bhakti yOga, he is an enemy of the triguNas (tripurAsurAs), thus keeping himself detached to their effects. As he remains unaffected by the triguNas by his yOga, he destroyed the actions of the mind (dakSha yaJna). As he has suppressed his mind and indrIyas from attachments to sense objects, he removed the twin experiences of pain and pleasure arising from attachments (the two eyes of bhaga).”
As one can see, all these are traits of a jIvAtma, albeit a knowledgeable one, which have been described by bhagavAn as characteristics of Rudra. This is srI krishNa’s answer to Arjuna regarding the status of Rudra.
We end this article with a powerful sloka of srI vedAnta desikan from his great work known as sharanAgati deepika that expounds nyAsa vidya.
Sharanagati Deepika 19:kAshI vR^ikAndhaka sharAsana bANa ga~NgA sambhUti nAmakR^iti samvadanAdi udantai: |svokti ambarIShabhaya shApamukhaishcha shambhum tvannighnamIkshi tavatAm iha kashsharaNya: ||
PBA Swamy’s Commentary:
For those in this world who understand the nature of Shiva, through:
  • Sudarshana’s burning ofKasi (which was protected by Shiva)
  • Shiva being saved from vrukasura/bhasmAsura by nArAyaNa
  • Shiva being saved from andhakAsura by nArAyaNa
  • The bow (referring to the rAmAyaNa’s description of vishNu defeating Shiva, or the Tripura samhAra using sriman nArAyaNa as the arrow)
  • Shiva defeated by srI krishNa while helping Banasura
  • Ganga which is vishNu pAda tIrtha on his head as well as indicating shiva’s birth from Brahma
  • Shiva getting names from Brahma upon birth affirming his “anapahatapApmatva”
  • Events where Shiva advised others and also sought nArAyaNa’s aid on behalf of the devas when they approached him for help
  • Shiva’s own words to pArvati, sages, etc on the supremacy of nArAyaNa
  • Being unable to help Durvasa when Sudarshana Chakra chased the former on account of offense to Ambarisha
  • Being cursed by Brahma and having a skull attached to his hand until he surrendered to nArAyaNa who liberated him
That Shiva, who is known as “Shambhu” as he is blissfully meditating on you (sriman nArAyaNa) in full awareness of these truths and his own nature, is subject to you. For those who know this, who else is thereto surrender to?


  1. Dear Sri Aryamaa & HBB,

    Very good analysis and excellent explanations on the exploits of Shiva.

    Also, request the blog authors to address in their future articles, the ill conceived notions being spread by anti vaishnava groups on validity of Bhagavad gita, like

    (1) Bhagavad Gita was revealed by Supreme Brahman by quoting the Anugita section of Aswamedha parva of Mahabharata where they indicate Krishna was in Yoga with Supreme brahman while reavealing the BG through Lord Krishna to Arjuna etc.

    (2) Citing Kurma Purana II.11, saying that shiva described the Bhagavad Gita and the same was revealed to Arjuna by Krishna

    (3) Bhagavad Gita is not the prime Gita and there are many more important gitas which were revealed by other deities

    Thanks & Rgds,

  2. Yes pls debunk shaivas who claim bhagvadgita isn't the supreme Gita. And that vishwarupa is Shiva not Vishnu all these stupid claims shaivas are spreading. How sad. Pls debunk their stupid logic. Narayanastra.blogspot is the best site ever!!! Ima fan of youuu!!!...

  3. They do not need any articles. If they haven't even proven Shiva is Parabrahman, none of their claims stand. Simple as that.

    Kurma Purana is a tAmasa purANa and not valid. Bhagavad Gita is recognized as the topmost smriti by all AchAryAs of the vedAntic tradition, so that requires no answer as well.

  4. Dear readers,

    The mudal thiruvandhAdhi of shrI poygai azhwar contains certain interesting tattvas. Azhwar describes why Shiva is not worthy of worship and is inferior to nArAyaNa. I thought of reproducing those pAsurams here. Most sri vaishnavas will be familiar with them, but for non-sri vaishnavas, it will be quite interesting as well considering that the philosophy of hari-sarvOttama is accepted by all vaidikas and is common to them.

    neri vAsal tAnEyAi ninrAnai aindu porivAsal pOrkkadavam sArtti arivAnAm |
    Ala mara neezhal aram nAlvarkku anru uraitta alam amar kaNDattu aran || (pasuram 4)

    Meaning: Once under the shade of a banyan tree, Siva, who has poison in his throat, made dharmOpadEsa to four siShyas with five doors (senses) that are forcibly shut (so that they do not wander anymore). He (Shiva) stupidly prides himself thinking he knows the Lord (Narayana) who is the means and end.


  5. Cont'd from above...

    shrI periyavAchan pillai explains the meaning of the above pAsuram:

    AzhwAr says ‘A devotee who has gained full jnAna through the grace of bhagavAn never thinks he has understood him fully but Shiva, who has only succeeded in marginally knowing the Lord through his own effort seems to be very proud and calls himself a jnAni and a guru, daring to teach four siShyas under the banyan tree. Therefore, (instead of bowing to Shiva for knowledge), take bhagavAn as the means (upAya) to reach alone.

    It is said in purANas that Shiva taught four riShis—agastya, pulastya, dakSha and mArkaNDEya about the nArAyaNa-tattva in his form as dakshInAmUrthy.

    Azhwar uses the word “arivAnAm”, which is a sarcastic expression, to mock Shiva. Its’ the colloquial equivalent of someone insulting a proud and foolish person by saying “Oh, he is apparently an “intellectual” --- which is a sarcastic phrase.

    Once a person called BAlAki who hadn’t had brahmajAna wanted to do upadESa to ajAtaSatru, a brahmajAni. This episode is told in brihadAraNyaka upaniShad and kouShitaki upaniShad. Similarly Shiva who hasn’t got brahma-jnAna wants to teach nArAyaNa-tattva to siShyas according to azhwar. ‘arivAnAm’ is thus used sarcastically.

    “aindu porivAsal”— The five indriyas are the five doors. If one is closed the other open. Thus are like doors that refuse to shut even for learned men (pOr kadavam). Therefore, azhwar is implying that as it is extremely difficult to control them, Shiva is not fully in control of them either, but still he is doing upadESa!

    A prapanna can control his indrIyAs by the grace of bhagavAn. But a bhakti yOgi like Shiva uses his own efforts to control them and as such is only partially successful. That is why he has acted against bhagavAn at times.

    “kanDatthAn” - When the Lord churned the milky ocean —deadly poison called hAlahala came out of it. Sriman nArAyaNa asked Siva to swallow it, and he did so. Fearing for his safety pArvati, his consort came and put her hand on his throat. From then on Shiva has blue neck due to the presence of poison. So he is called kAla-kaNTha.

    Azhwar questions, “how can one who has the poison in his throat give upadEsam about the nectar that is bhagavAn?”

    AzhwAr calls him 'Alam amar kaNDan' suggesting he does tAmasic acts in accordance with his tAmasic nature. He cannot do anything sAttvic like doing upadESa etc.

    We should note that Poigai Azhwar is a prapanna. The shAstras declare that Shiva is a jnAni on the basis of him being the best among bhakti yOgIs. The same shAstrAs also declare that this path of bhakti is however, vastly inferior to prapatti mArga. Bhakti yOga is only for dullards from the perspective of prapannAs who haven’t got the desire to relinquish their own efforts. Therefore, from the perspective of azhwar, Shiva is an ajnAni and this is perfectly in accordance with the shAstra as well. The fact that Shiva has acted against the Lord in tamO guNa does not endear him to azhwar too.

    So what azhwar is saying regarding Shiva draws from the authority of the same shAstra which hails Shiva as a jnAni. No doubts about that. One should not mistake this as shiva dvEsham because these are just facts.


  6. Cont'd from above...

    Now, the next pAsuram,

    aran nAraNan nAmam AnviDai puLLoordi urainool maraiyuraiyum kOyil vari neer |
    karumam azhippaLippa kaiyaduvEl nEmi uruvam eri kAr mEni onru || (pAsuram 5)

    Meaning: The name of one is “Hara”, one who destroys everything, whereas the name of the other is nArayaNa, one who is sarva vyApaka (all pervasive) and sarva rakShaka (protector). The vAhana of one is a bull (known for its stupidity) where as the vAhana of the other is garuDa, the vEda moorti. The pramANa of one is the Agama, an authored work, whereas the pramANa of the other is the vEdas, which is apAurushEya. The residing place of one is kailAsa mountain, a hard rough place, whereas the residing place of other is the milky ocean (a soft flowing one). The job of one is samhAra (destruction) suited to his hard heartedness, whereas the job of the other is rakShaNa—suited to His guNa. The weapon one has is triShula—a spear suited to destruction, whereas the weapon of the other is the chakra that protects his devotees. The form of one is like that of agni (terrible to look at), whereas the form of the other is like a dark rain cloud (pleasing to look at). Siva is the sharIra (body) of srIman nArAyaNa.

    This magnificent pAsuram is most suited to the article on shiva leelas, which is why I reproduced it.
    Now, here is shrI periyavAchAn pillai’s commentary:


  7. Cont'd from above...

    In the last pASura AzhwAr said sarcastically ‘aran arivAnAm’ (Shiva is a great intellectual,they say). On hearing this some of the Shiva Baktas asked him ‘why do you say so? Haven’t you seen people like us prostrating before him? He is called “iShvara”. How can you insult our supreme god?’ AzhwAr answers them in this pASura declaring thereby the Supremacy of srIman nArAyaNa.


  8. Cont'd from above...

    Azhwar is using the following logic - rUpamEva asya Etan mahimAnam vyAlakShatE –One’s form gives indication of his greatness. Thus, he describes Shiva and Narayana.

    First the names —one is called Hara and the other is called nArAyaNa. Hara means one who destroys everything; nArAyaNa means one who lives in all nityavastus to protect them. Who is greater? –One who is sarva BakShaka or one who is sarvarakShaka?

    Take their vAhanas-One has the bull as his vAhana and the other has garuDa. The Bull is known for its slowness and stupidity whereas the bird is known for its swiftness and sharpness. ‘suparNOsi garutmAn’ (vEda) ‘vEdAtma vihagESwara;’ (stOtra ratna) , etc.

    (Note by Aaryamaa: The bull can stand for both dharma and stupidity. In the case of Shiva, it is both. As he is a bhakti yOgi prone to sattvika and tAmasika mood swings, the bull stands for his adherence to dharma in the former mood and his tamO guNa in his latter mood. In contrast, Garuda is praised in several sUktas in the veda and is "vedAtma", as well as one who is swift and sharp in intellect).

    Now, take the sources describing each as Parabrahman. Shiva is described as paramAtma in the Shaiva Agamas and the tAmasa purANAs. Agamas are authored works (pAuruShEya) that speak of Shivas deeds contrary to the vEdas. The same goes for followed by rAjasa and tAmasa purANAs. In contrast, the vEdas that speak of sriman nArAyaNa are not authored (anAdi) that speak nothing but truth.

    (Note by Aaryamaa: This again proves, during azhwar’s time, Shaivism was never a vedAntic religion, and that the followers of the vaidikas belonging to Astika schools were all vaishnavas. For azhwars lumps all Shaivas as those who do not follow the Veda, but only the Agama).


  9. Cont'd from above,

    Next, their locations - Shiva resides on a hard mountainous region called kailAsa whereas nArAyaNa lies on the cool, soft ocean —a place suited to their guNas.

    One’s job is nothing but destruction but the other’s is only protection. One holds a fierce and terrible trishUla where as the other holds protective chakrAyudha.

    (Note by Aaryamaa: Shiva is appointed to destroy on account of his tamO guNa. This guNa makes one an asura prone to destructive behavior. Thus, bhagavAn, wanting to save Shiva from that fate, makes him a destroyer so that he can channel that tamO guNa into the cosmic duty of destruction. This way, the tamO guNa of shiva can be nullified.

    Also, the trishUla is only used to remove the lives of creatures. Remember the section in the mahAbhArata, arjuna tells krishNa that he sees Rudra ahead of their chariot, killing beings with his trident. Thus, it is a weapon that only causes distress to us. Whereas, bhagavAn’s chakra only protects his devotees as seen in several purAnic incidents).

    Their respective forms - vEdas say Shiva is red in colour like burning coal whereas nArAyaNa is cool and pleasant like a rain-cloud.

    (Note by Aaryamaa: Refer this article for inner meanings of the forms).

    UpaniShads say all the dEvatas are bhagavad sharIra and he is sharIrin. Who is greater? the sharIra or sharIrin?

    AzhwAr says—‘Oh! Men! Now you decide for yourself who is the Supreme Lord!’

    mEni onru— shiva is sharIra is the meaning; nArAyaNa is the sharIrin is understood meaning. This is explained in detail in antaryAmi BrAhmaNa.

    (Note by Aaryamaa: Now, after all this, one can ask a question – If you are differentiating the name of "Hara", the form of Shiva, his bull, his location of Kailasha, his duty of destruction from nArAyaNa, are you not implying that Shiva’s name, form, Kailasha, the bull, his power of destruction are independent from nArAyaNa? Furthermore, is it not possible that Shiva has some appealing traits as well?

    To that Azhwar settles the issue by saying – “yasya Atma sharIraM”. Even if you argue that way, Shiva is the body of nArAyaNa and the latter is his inner self. Being the body, Shiva is a vibhUti of nArAyaNa. Thus, whatever belongs to Shiva, belongs to nArAyaNa only and even Shiva’s names, forms, location, vehicle and deeds are thus the glory of nArAyaNa.)

    Readers can find the entire commentary here - But as the site is often periodically down and is currently non-functioning, I quoted the relevant parts here and tweaked the explanation a bit to correct some errors in that publication.

    1. ADDENDUM: I had forgotten to explain this portion of the commentary:

      ---Next, their locations - Shiva resides on a hard mountainous region called kailAsa whereas nArAyaNa lies on the cool, soft ocean —a place suited to their guNas.---

      How is KailAsha and the Milky Ocean suited to both their guNas? The word "KailAsha" is derived from "kElAsa" - crystal. A crystal is very hard. And hardness signifies tamO guNa in the shAstrAs.

      Note that the names of two asurAs are "madhu" and "kaitabha". Madhu signifies rajas or desire, as is evident by his name. "Kaitabha" is derived from "kitaka" which means hard. It signifies tamas.

      Similarly, in the keshi sUkta, we have the word "kunnannamA" to denote the asurAs. It means hard again.

      Thus, Shiva's abode is hard, which suits his tamO guNa. BhagavAn's abode is soft and flowing water, which is sattva guNa. This is mentioned in the Uttara khAnda of padma purANa by Bhrigu Maharishi, who tests the trimUrtis to see which of them is fit to worship. The translation quotes Bhrigu as saying:

      "Shankara enveloped by tamas was cursed by me on the peak of kailAsha. vishNu full of pure sattva is the ocean of auspicious qualities".

      Note the reference to kailAsha here. The text can be accessed here -*/0ByTrbPQHgxJdZ0gtYlRoVFVFaXM

      That explains azhwar's reference to the locations.

  10. Just a recommendation. If readers enjoyed that extract, then they would probably find thirumazhisai azhwar’s nAnmugan thiruvandhAdhi enthralling, where azhwar expands on the above topic and establishes the supremacy of the Lord, while delineating the subordinate status of Shiva. A workable translation can be found here:

    Just a small sample. My favorite section is pAsuram 4. Here, the Shaivas question azwar that shruti contains statements like “eko hi rudrO na dvitIyAya tasthu:” “Siva eva kevala:” etc. Does this not indicate Shiva is supreme?

    Azhwar responds to this charge in just 2 words of pAsuram 4 - “ArusadaikkarandhAn” and “epporutkum sollAnai”. Quoting from that translation and ad libbing a bit:

    1) It is for sure that some of the Vedic verses declare one Sivan as the supreme but shouldn’t you all just analyse if that Sivan said in the Vedas is the same as the Sivan you all think?

    2) “ArusadaikkarandhAn” - The word Sivan means one who has purity by nature. Shouldn’t we analyse if the Rudran you refer to as Sivan has this divine purity always?

    3) “sadai” means matted locks. This is an indication that he does some sAdhanAnushtanam (some activities done to attain some goal) that shows that Rudra cannot be paramatma.

    4) “sadaikkarandhAn” - The one who accepted bhagavad sripada theertham (water used to pay homage to the divine feet of the Lord) on his head.

    5) “karandhAn” - One who preserves the holy water (Ganga) on his head like a person safeguarding huge wealth in a safe locker.

    6) "Arusadai…..kolkaiththE" - “Eka prAseesharath pAdham….. dEshukaNyathAm” [one person lifted his feet high; one, with great pleasure washed it, another held it on his head. Among these who can be considered great?]

    7) Since Shiva attained purity upon being cleansed by the Ganga, he is not eternally pure.

    8) So who is this “Shiva” in the Vedas? After all, there are Vedic verses that declare one with the names Shiva, Rudra, Isha, Ishvara, Maheshwara etc to be the paramathma.

    9) Azhwar replies, “epporutkum sollAnai” - Whatever names the Vedas may use, nArayaNa alone is the paramathma, who bears all these various names viz., AkAsha, prAna, jyOthi, indra, Rudra, Shiva, Isha, Ishvara, Maheshwara, Purusha, Purushottama, Uttama Purusha, Vishnu, Hari, Achyuta, Ananta, Narayana, Trivikrama, Vamana, etc.

    Thus, in just 2 words, Azhwar summed up the entire philosophy of the vedAnta. Interested readers can go through the document.

  11. Excellent explanations sir! So pleasing to hear!

    I have one doubt. Why does Pey Alwar in his moonram thiruvandhadhi pasuram 63, talk of the Lord at Venkatam as holding the axe and combining the images of Vishnu and Shiva? This pasuram is the favorite of Hari-Hara aikya vAdins. Can you please explain the meaning of this pasuram? Thanks.

  12. Sri Aaryamaa,
    Wonderful Alwar pasurams and the meanings.


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