Bhagavan Vishnu vs Bhagavan Shiva vs Bhagavati Durga

My salutations to Sri Durga Devi, Who is both Yogmaya and Mahamaya, the Supreme Energy of Creation, Preservation and Destruction.

My salutations to Sri Mahesvara Sadashiva, who is Ishvara, and Who, through His parts and expansions known as Rudras, dissolves infinite brahmaandas after every kalpa.

My salutations to Sri Mahavishnu, the deity of the Purush-Sukt, Who has thousands of heads, arms and legs, and Whose body pores contain infinite brahmaandas.

In this age of shout-from-home-patriotism, where the conscience of every person behooves him to demand a better leader for his country, it has become indispensable to gain perspective on morality. And what better source of morality can there be other than the Vedic scriptures? With this blog I shall strive to establish a forum, a platform, for not only promoting the virtues of our religion to the young crowd of today (I’m 21, live in a semi-metropolitan city), but also for addressing the delusive, glaring discord between the world we observe and the world found in our Vedic texts; between the modern science of man and the curious, odd science of Bharat-varsh.

As is appropriate, I embark on this digital journey with a post about God, who is the foundation of all objects in the Universe – especially, the Vedas, and Who favors the land of Bharat-varsh above all others. Some innocent readers might point out, ‘you mean Gods; the title of your post mentions three names’, but that, my dear friends, is the very crux of this issue. It is a post about God, the singular. 

As Hindus, we are often troubled by one question above all others when it comes to the matters of religion and/or spirituality. Who, among Sri Vishnu, Sri Mahesvara and Sri Devi, really is God? In the light of malignant criticism that is being increasingly mounted upon our religion and its cultural figures by proponents of other faiths, there is a grave want for resolution of this matter. Of course, profounder attempts have been made by infinitely profounder men and verily, the very own scriptures that I speak of, but as is the case with everything of this world, time denudes knowledge and, in our case, the very desire to even care about such a thing.

Who cares who is God, right? 'I will worship Vishnu on Ekadashi, Shankara on Shivaratri and Durga on Navratri. That’s more than enough. Look at everyone else. Look at Shah-Rukh-Khan, he is so much more interesting. Look at Sonia Gandhi; look at the power she wields.' But, alas, such infatuations stem from ignorance. We don’t know that these three divinities possess opulence far beyond the powers displayed by the great men of our world. Who’d be interested in Sonia Gandhi once they hear about the bejeweled halls of Sri Devi? Who’d be infatuated with Shah-Rukh-Khan’s looks once they sight Sri Narayana’s bluish feet? But I digress. The argument for human puniness vs Bhagavan’s almightiness will find full expression in another blog entry. This superfluous comparison was necessary, however, to encourage readers to drop the mindset that they adopt while dealing with the world every day, to remind them that we are talking about Figures who have been attributed the creation of all existence; to make them really sit upright and go, ‘okay, this is important’.

So, if you, my dear readers, have come into such a favorable mindset, let’s begin.

Sri Durga or Uma is the deity of Shaktism. She is known as Maha-maya, the total material energy; Parameshvari – the Supreme Controller; Adi-Shakti – the primeval power; or simply, Devi – the Goddess. Traditionally, Durga is believed to be the Supreme form of Shakti – or Energy. She presides over a spiritual realm called Mani-dvip, or the island of jewels, and possesses a spiritual form of four arms and three eyes which is complexioned of a reddish color. Even though Parvati, the wife of Shiva, may be attributed as being the origin of Sri Durga in our brahmaand, They are one and the same entity.

In relation to Shankara, She manifests many forms such as Meenakshi, Lalita Tripursundari, the ten mahavidyas, etc. and sports with Him in various ways for the benefit of the followers of tantra.

When desiring to establish Her own glory, She assumes central importance in celestial wars and is declared as the amalgamation, or rather, the source of Shaktis of all other devas viz. Brahmani, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Aindri, Varahi, etc. This deity of Durga although seemingly beyond the figure of Uma or Parvati, the spouse of Shankara, is indifferent from Her. 

In Kenopanishat, She appears as Uma, Brahma-vidya, and is directly addressed as the Personal power of Bhagavan Yaksha (confirmed to be Sri Krsna by the foremost Vedic scholar) - the manifestation of light that comes to teach Indra and co. a lesson. In relation to Sri Narayana, She appears as His sister, Yogmaya, Yognidra, Vishnumaya, etc. and is described as His power.

In the Lalita Sahasranaama, we find the name Sadashiva-kutumbini (or the devoted Lady of Sadashiva’s household) and Sadashiva-Pativrata (the Lady who always maintains the strict vow of faithfulness to Sadashiva), signifying that even though She is seated on Sadashiva in Her form of Lalita, He isn’t inferior to Her in any way. 

Rajasic Puraanas, like Brahmaanda, Markandeya, etc. speak of an event that occurred in antiquity (155 trillion years ago give or take), when Brahma was just born from the navel of Sriman Narayana. Two terrible rakshasas had also appeared from the divine, wonderful ear-wax of Sri Narayana at the time. They were known as Madhu-Kaitabha. The account is famous amongst Puranas and the readers might remember this particular detail about it: that Goddess Bhagavati, in the form of Kaali, covered Sri Narayana with Yoganidra and rendered Him inert. Shaktas extol this ability of Sri Devi, of inhibiting the all-pervasive Vishnu powerless. But what the readers don’t generally know is that this particular Sri Narayana, in His original form of Sri Krishna, is described as the origin of Devi in the same Rajasic Puranas.

 The Lalita Sahasranaama again extols Her as Vaishnavi (the power of Sri Vishnu) and Vishnu-roopini (the form of Sri Vishnu). Interestingly, right after She is glorified as Padmanaabha-sahodari (the sister of Sri Padmanaabha), it is stated:

Unmesha Nimishotpanna Vipanna Bhuvanawalih
Sahasra Sheersha-vadana Sahasraakshi Sahasra-paath

By the opening and closing of Her eyes She generates and destroys trillions of brahmaandas and
She has thousands of heads, thousands of mouths, thousands of eyes and thousands of feet.

These functions and traits are traditionally attributed to Sri Mahavishnu in Vedic literature. Indeed, He is the deity of the Purush-sukt as He stores within His divine body-pores infinite brahmaandas. His length, breadth, bodily dimensions are impossible to measure or imagine.By praising Devi with the above names, it is made clear that Sri Devi and Sri Vishnu are indifferent. The Devi Bhagavatam goes a step further. It states that Dakshina Kaali has obtained Her bluish color due to Her intense meditation on Sri Krishna.

Now we move on to Sri Mahesvara Shiva. He is known as Mahadeva – the greatest god; devadi-deva – the god of all gods and Mahesvara – the Supreme Lord. He maintains a body that is purely white in color and possessing five heads and ten hands. He resides in the spiritual realm called Maha-Kailasa in the form of Sri Sadashiva, where He is eternally worshiped by Nandi and the others. Although He restrains Himself to governing only one mode of material nature (tamo-guna) in His guna-avatar called Rudra, Sri Mahesvara performs all three functions of Creation, Preservation and Destruction otherwise. In the Shakti-Shaiva canon, which seems to be so closely intertwined, there is a mention of two more functions which are performed as regards to material existence. They are: Covering all the three above-mentioned functions (of Creation, Preservation and Destruction) and bestowing grace. Ishvara (a form of Shiva) performs the first function whereas Sada-shiva performs the second.

Shaivites argue that Sri Mahesvara is God because Kashi is the best amongst holy places; because of the epithets Vedas attribute to him viz. Mahesvara, Mahadeva, Vishwanatha, etc.; and because avatars like Sri Rama, Sri Krsna, Sri Parashurama, etc. worshiped Shankara faithfully, etc.

Since Mahesvara’s relationship with Devi has already been established, we move on to what is, possibly, the most anticipated aspect of our discussion. The relationship of Shiva and Vishnu. Shaiva Puranas, being tamasic in nature, generally tend to lean towards terrifying descriptions of God. In them we find the seemingly gory episodes of Brahma’s head being severed; Sri Lakshmi separating Her bosoms from Her body and offering them to Shankara; etc. There also appears, however, the wonderful descriptions of Sri Vishnu’s avatars and Their life-episodes. The Vayu Purana reveals, in a setting that precedes the celestial battle with Andhaka-sura (on the summit of Mount Kailas in Hemakuta mountains), a highly interesting dialog between Sri Mahesvara and His associates, the ganas. When the ghoulish followers of Shankara, numbering 700 crore, gather around Him, Shankara only embraces Nandi. One of His other primary associates is disgruntled by this preferential treatment and questions Sri Mahesvara about it. Ishvara replies that only Nandi recognizes the glory of Sri Vishnu and believes Him to be equal to Him; the rest of the ganas think Sri Hari to be inferior. Thereafter, Sri Mahesvara manifests His original five-headed form of Sadashiva and then transforms Himself into the four-armed form of Sri Mahavishnu. The Puranas are otherwise filled with verses like, “Shiva is the heart of Vishnu and Vishnu is the heart of Shiva” etc. which amply support the fact that the two Dities are non-different.

The last Deity of our discussion is Sri Vishnu. He is known as Vishnu – One Who is all-pervasive; Purushottama – Supreme among beings of the material as well as the spiritual world; Jagannatha – the Lord of all existence, etc. He resides in the spiritual realm called Vaikuntha, which is famous amongst the Vedas and possesses a four-armed form. His limbs are of the color of a divine water-filled cloud. He expands into the three afore-mentioned Purusha-avatars and countless other avatars such as Kurma, Matsya, Varaha, Narsimha, etc. Every second He enters different Bruhmaandas in powerful, spiritual forms and maintains them in various ways.

Vaishnavas argue that Sri Vishnu is God because: the four most sacred objects for Hindus viz. Tulasi, Ganga, Cow and Bhagavad Geeta are related to Sri Vishnu; Sri Vishnu is the presiding deity over chaar-dhaam, or the standard four holy places; the Purush-sukt is attributed to Him; because the glories of His avataras are sung in every Purana; because He presides over Sattva-guna, which is the final step to liberation; etc.

Even though Tulasi, Ganga and the cow are traditionally affiliated with Sri Vishnu, their relationship with Sri Mahesvara cannot be overlooked. In the events that led to the manifestation of the Tulasi tree, ample demonstrations were made about the clandestine, almost exclusive friendship of Madhava and Mahesvara. Tulasi’s demon husband, Shankhachooda, is actually one of Sri Krishna’s parshads in the brilliant spiritual abode of Goloka. In his pastime of acting as a demon, Shankhachooda engages in battle with Mahadeva and Kaali – not Vishnu! The Vaishnava Puranas reveal a very wonderful detail about this battle. Before fighting the Goddess’s terrifying dark form, Shankhachooda falls flat on the ground and praises Her as Bhagavati. He eulogizes Shankara to no end, too, during his personal fight with Him and identifies Him as non-different from His master, Sri Krishna. 

The Bhagavata Purana is very straightforward in its opinion about Sri Mahesvara. It reveals, uninhibitedly, the praises that the gods, led by Brahmadeva and Sri Vishnu, shower on Mahadeva Shankara in a bid to get Him to consume the all-devouring haalahal poison. Terms like Parah-Brahmn, Bhagavan, the combined performer of Creation, Preservation and Destruction are freely used in those verses. In Vaishnava traditions, there is a principle called Yogmaya which is central to the cult of Bhakti. The Bhagavata Purana identifies Uma/Parvati as Yogmaya twice – when She is born from Devaki’s womb in the prison cell and when the Gopis observe vrata for Her form of Katyayani. This revelation is at complete odds with the narrow views of some of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas. They have relegated Shankara and Devi to the status of mere ‘demigods’. They call Durga as Mahamaya strictly – the Bahiranga shakti of Bhagavan and identify Radha as Yogmaya. But the Puraanas (Brahm-vaivarta, Devi Bhagavatam) and tantras sing a different tune. They identify Radha and Durga as being One and the same. The Brahm-Vaivarta Purana goes a step further and identifies Durga as the Goddess Who sports in the Raas-leela in Golok. 

One of the more popular misconceptions of naive Vaishnava fanaticism is addressed by Tulsidasa – a true Vaishnava himself. Sri Sadashiva is stated to be constantly engaged in the worship of Sankarshana, a form of Sri Krishna, by Vaishnava scriptures like Brhad-Bhagavatamritam. While this may certainly be true (since realized devotees possess full powers of Bhagavan and are conversant with the most secretive truths), there is one more side to the truth. Shesha-Naag, a manifestation of Sankarshana, reveals Tulasidas, is incapable of describing the glories of Mahesvara with His infinite tongues. Thus, Shankarshana Himself falls short of praising Shiva!

In conclusion, the three forms of God are One and the same, equal in all aspects of power, glory, fame, strength, etc. Their so called difference appears only in the material world, where the divine concepts can never ever be truly perceived for what they are. As an act of grace, God manifests Himself in these three brilliant Forms eternally and performs odd, magnificent leelas and functions. Realized sages call these Forms as Paramatma, for each of Them pervades the sum total of existence and is the basis of Nirguna-Nirvishesh-Niraakar Brahm. They have Their individual abodes next to each other and sport there eternally, as the thickest of friends.

As an act of leela, and substantiating Their individual glories amongst Their countless devotees - those innumerable spiritual associates of glowing bodies in Vaikuntha, Kailasa, etc. They worship each other in various ways. In Rameshvaram, Sri Ram became Sri Shiva and Shiva became Ram. Puranas speak of a particular Ramavatar, where Lalita-devi/ Durga descended as the green-hued Ramachandra and Her spouse, Shankara became Seeta. Indeed, a saint, who has received the title Jagadgurrottam (the best of all Jagadgurus viz Shankara, Ramanuja, etc.), reveals that Parvati became Sri Krishna once and Shivji became Radha. Parashuram serves Devi in various ways and so does Hayagreev. Both are incarnations of Vishnu.

Shiva, in the form of Hanuman, serves Ramachandra and enters the Raas-leela in a gopi form whereas Gadadhar Vishnu incarnates Himself as a certain Paramhans and worships Bhavatarini Kaali in Eastern-bharat varsh.

Of course, God has infinite Forms but They can only ever be classified as Shakti-tattva, Shiva-tattva and Vishnu tattva. What about Ganesha, Kartikeya, Saraswati, Brahma-deva, Surya-deva, Hanuman, you may ask? Even these forms are associated with the said three divinities.

Ganesha is said to be a form of Sri Krishna, Kartikeya, the combined manifestation of Shiva and Vishnu, Surya, an expansion of Sri Vishnu, etc.

 The conclusion, my dear readers, is that you should equally respect and adore all these divine forms of God: Sri Krishna, Sri Ram, Sri Durga, Sri Shiva and Sri Vishnu, and constantly dwell upon their wonderful indifference and charming interactions – a mere fraction of which has been put together here.

EDIT: I am a big fool, and this information has already been freely broadcast by the great Acharyas of the Vaishnava tradition.


  1. From the perspective of ISKCON Lord Shiva who is Rudra in the universe is considered a demi-god while Lord Sadashiva who is non different from Maha Vishnu and lives on the outside of the universe on the Vaikuntha side is not. The Lord Shiva in the universe is said to be a qualitative incarnation of Lord SadaShiva. So ISKCON is not incorrect.

    1. Although I admit my opinion of ISKCON then was not something I am proud of now, the fact remains that it considers the Shiva of a brahmaand as a mere demigod.

      This Rudra is equal to Sadashiva,in so far as Ksheerodashayi Vishnu is equal to Mahavishnu. He is not a demigod. There is only a difference is quantity, not nature. Tamo-gunavtara doesn't mean Shankara is tamasi in nature. Never! Here, tamas signifies the tamas of the divine realm. You may call it Shuddh-tamas, just as Vishnu is the Form of Shuddh-Sattva.

      Yes, ISKCON is fully entitled to presenting Vedic culture as it sees fit. After all, it is the arrangement of Providence. However, there is overwhelming evidence in the Vedic scriptures that attests to Shiva's Godhood - a state which He shares with the Supreme Vishnu. Factually, They aren't two at all. It is for the sake of the jeevas that They appear separate.

      Good day.