[Advaita-l] Shiva consuming hAlAhala - an interpolation in samudra manthana

D Gayatri dgayatrinov10 at gmail.com
Thu Aug 11 05:36:26 CDT 2016

The samudra manthana (churning of the ocean by devas and asuras) episode is
famous and is told in many ancient works like the Mahabharata (Adi parvan),
the Vishnu Purana, the Ramayana and the Bhagavata Purana and some other
Puranas. One of the incidents that is allegedly a part of this episode is
the drinking of hAlAhala poison by Shiva. It is now a days almost taken for
granted that in the samudra manthana story, Shiva drinks the hAlAhala
poison to save the worlds. However, this incident of Shiva drinking the
poison is not present in the critical edition of the Mahabharata and nor is
it present in the Vishnu Purana. In this post, I will briefly touch upon
the absence of the hAlAhala incident in two important works, the
Mahabharata and the Vishnu purana.

1. Mahabharata (Adi parvan)

First let us look at a non-critical edition of the Mahabharata, the one
translated by K M Ganguly.


[But with the churning still going on, the poison Kalakuta appeared at
last. Engulfing the Earth it suddenly blazed up like a fire attended with
fumes. And by the scent of the fearful Kalakuta, the three worlds were
stupefied. And then Siva, being solicited by Brahman, swallowed that poison
for the safety of the creation. The divine Maheswara held it in his throat,
and it is said that from that time he is called Nilakantha (blue-throated).]

In the above non-critical edition, Shiva drinks the poison that comes out
of the churning of the ocean. However, this is clearly an interpolation
because the critical edition of the Mahabharata does not contain these

In his preface to the Adi parvan of the Mahabharata, Vishnu Sukthankar
states that the hAlAhala incident is mentioned exclusively in most Southern
manuscripts, but is completely absent from the Northern (that includes the
Eastern, Western and Northern) manuscripts. Hence this is treated as an
interpolation and removed from the critical edition of the Mahabharata,
prepared by Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI).

Here is a brief summary of the episode in the critical edition of the
Mahabharata -

1. Mount Mandara is uprooted by the snake Ananta (Adi Sesha).
2. The snake Vaasuki is used for churning the ocean and the mountain rests
on King of tortoises akUpAra during churning.
3. Puffs of smoke and fire come out from Vasuki's mouth during churning
4. The devas and asuras and snakes become weak during the churning
5. Narayana grants them strength to continue churning at Brahma's request.
6. Sun, Moon, Sri, Liquor, White Horse, Kaustubha come out of the ocean
during churning.
7. Finally Dhanvantari comes with the Amruta.
8. Vishnu bewitches the asuras by taking  female form and gives the Amruta
to the gods for drinking. The asura Rahu manages to drink it by taking the
form of a deva.
9. A fight occurs between the devas andd asuras and Narayana and Nara help
the devas defeat the asuras.

In this entire incident Shiva is completely absent and so is hAlAhala.

2. Vishnu Purana

In the Vishnu Purana, the poison comes out of the ocean during the
churning, but it is not consumed by Shiva. Instead it is taken by the
snakes. Shiva is present but he just seizes the moon that comes out during
the churning. Here is the VP translation by Wilson -


[From the ocean, thus churned by the gods and Dánavas, first uprose the cow
Surabhi, the fountain of milk and curds, worshipped by the divinities, and
beheld by them and their associates with minds disturbed, and eyes
glistening with delight. Then, as the holy Siddhas in the sky wondered what
this could be, appeared the goddess Váruní (the deity of wine), her eyes
rolling with intoxication. Next, from the whirlpool of the deep, sprang the
celestial Párijáta tree, the delight of the nymphs of heaven, perfuming the
world with its blossoms. The troop of Ápsarasas, the nymphs of heaven, were
then produced, of surprising loveliness, endowed with beauty and with
taste. The cool-rayed moon next rose, and was seized by Mahádeva: and then
poison was engendered from the sea, of which the snake gods (Nágas) took
possession. Dhanwantari, robed in white, and bearing in his hand the cup of
Amrita, next came forth: beholding which, the sons of Diti and of Danu, as
well as the Munis, were filled with satisfaction and delight. Then, seated
on a full-blown lotus, and holding a water-lily in her hand, the goddess
Śrí, radiant with beauty, rose from the waves. ]

In the Ramayana and Bhagavata Purana and some other Puranas however,
hAlAhala comes out of the ocean during churning and is consumed by Shiva.
But since this incident is markedly absent from both the Mahabharata and
the Vishnu Purana, it can be deemed a later interpolation.


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