Vishnu and Shiva

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Mon Mar 24 00:39:34 CST 2003

On Tue, 18 Mar 2003, Jaldhar H. Vyas wrote:

> I think a case can be made that Vishnu Bhagawan is given a greater
> prominence in the Vedic texts.

Were you to count up the mentions of the names Vishnu and Shiva or Rudra
in the Vedic texts, the former would come out far, far, ahead.  (Though
the names of Agni or Surya or Indra would probably be even further ahead)
the reason I believe is not to do with one being "better" or "superior"
but due to the purpose of the Vedic mantras.  Most of them are related to
rituals to seek some kind of human goal (purushartha)  As such it makes
sense to propitiate those deities whose concern is with the welfare and
nourishment of humanity.

But let's look at the major example of a sukta addressed to Shiva
Bhagavan, the Shatarudriyam or Namaka of the Yajurveda.  Accordingto the
Shatapathabrahmana, it is employed during the yajna called Agnichayana.
Before the altar is built, the ground has to be consecrated and with this
sukta, Bhagavan Rudra is asked to vacate it.  Hence it is also called
Shantadaivatam ("placating the Deity.")

There are two simplistic and wrong interpretations you can make of this.
One is that the Shaiva worship is primitive and based on fear.  The second
is that Shiva Bhagavan was some kind of outsider God who was only abosrbed
into the Hindu pantheon later on.  Neither theory will hold up.

The first is wrong because the litany of names in the namaka include many
beneficient attributes.  Certainly one must be in awe of His power
("Reverence to your wrath O Rudra!" says the first rk.) but this is not
the same as fear (except in the minds of the ignorant. See below.)  Shiva
Bhagavans' wrath is directed at the perpetrators of adharma.  The second
apart from having only dubious historical basis, doesn't explain why an
outsider became one of the most widely worshipped Deities.

So this is my theory.  Shiva Bhagavan does not get mentioned as much
because He represents God in His infinite aspect.  Rudra is one but Vedic
texts also describe 11 Rudras.  And this sukta says there are actually
1000s upon 1000s of Rudras.  In fact there is no place which is not
pervaded by Rudra.  A very human reaction of the unprepared mind to
infinity is fear.  When Arjuna beholds Krshna Bhagavans' Vishvarupa his
reaction is:

nabhaHsprshaM dIptamanekavarNaM vyAttAnanaM dIptavishAlanetraM |
drShTvA hi tvAM pravyathitAntarAtmA dhrtiM na vindAmi shamaM cha viShno ||

Seeing You touching the sky [in height,] [shining as if] ablaze, with many
fearsome shapes [literally with many colors,] with gaping mouths and fiery
beautiful eyes, my body is in turmoil and Vishnu I cannot find steadiness
or peace. [Gita, 11.24]

Afterwards he says with relief,

drShtvedam mAnuSham rUpaM tava saumyaM janArdana |
idAnIM asmi saMvrttaH sachetAH prakrtiM gataH ||

Now that I see [again] Your gentle human form Janardana, I have come back
to my senses, and my normal composure is regained.  [Gita 11.51]

It is due to the varying capacities of the observers, that Bhagavan is
manifest in various forms.  Those who fail to recognize that Bhagavans'
description cannot be exhausted with even a 1000 names are counted amongst
the ignorant.  (Incidently this passage in the Gita shows that this idea
of infinity and fearsomeness applies as much to Vishnu Bhagavan as Shiva
Bhagavan)  Eventually through patient education, Arjuna was able to
comprehend and then his fear vanished.

The various Devatas are the guests at the yajna, Shiva Bhagavan is the
very soul of it.  But Daksha Prajapati was one who failed to recognize it.
It is for this reason he met his end and his yajna went for naught.  But
later Shiva Bhagavan restored his life and made his yajna complete.  This
is the idea in the Shatarudriyam too.  How can you sacrifice that which
doesn't belong to you in the first place?  Only if the owner allows you
the freedom to do so.  Those who request Rudra Bhagavan to leave while
recognizing and acknowledging His power are succesful in their endeavors
while those who think it is an excuse to turn their backs on Him and
haughtily think he is being dismissed due to unimportance will always

So don't worry about how many times one is mentioned over another.  Such
questions are for accountants not sadhaks.  True power is hidden more
often than manifest.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>
It's a girl! See the pictures -

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