SB 8.7: Lord Śiva Saves the Universe by Drinking Poison
The summary of the Seventh Chapter is as follows. As described in this chapter, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, appearing in His incarnation as a tortoise, dove deep into the ocean to carry Mandara Mountain on His back. At first the churning of the ocean produced kālakūṭa poison. Everyone feared this poison, but Lord Śiva satisfied them by drinking it.
With the understanding that when the nectar was generated from the churning they would share it equally, the demigods and the demons brought Vāsuki to be used as the rope for the churning rod. By the expert arrangement of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the demons held the snake near the mouth, whereas the demigods held the tail of the great snake. Then, with great endeavor, they began pulling the snake in both directions. Because the churning rod, Mandara Mountain, was very heavy and was not held by any support in the water, it sank into the ocean, and in this way the prowess of both the demons and the demigods was vanquished. The Supreme Personality of Godhead then appeared in the form of a tortoise and supported Mandara Mountain on His back. Then the churning resumed with great force. As a result of the churning, a huge amount of poison was produced. The prajāpatis, seeing no one else to save them, approached Lord Śiva and offered him prayers full of truth. Lord Śiva is called Āśutoṣa because he is very pleased if one is a devotee. Therefore he easily agreed to drink all the poison generated by the churning. The goddess Durgā, Bhavānī, the wife of Lord Śiva, was not at all disturbed when Lord Śiva agreed to drink the poison, for she knew Lord Śiva’s prowess. Indeed, she expressed her pleasure at this agreement. Then Lord Śiva gathered the devastating poison, which was everywhere. He took it in his hand and drank it. After he drank the poison, his neck became bluish. A small quantity of the poison dropped from his hands to the ground, and it is because of this poison that there are poisonous snakes, scorpions, toxic plants and other poisonous things in this world.
parivīya girau tasmin
netram abdhiṁ mudānvitāḥ
ārebhire surā yattā
pūrvaṁ devās tato ’bhavan
na gṛhṇīmo vayaṁ puccham
aher aṅgam amaṅgalam
The demons thought that the front of the snake was auspicious and that catching hold of that portion would be more chivalrous. Moreover, Daityas must always do the opposite of the demigods. That is their nature. We have actually seen this in relation to our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. We are advocating cow protection and encouraging people to drink more milk and eat palatable preparations made of milk, but the demons, just to protest such proposals, are claiming that they are advanced in scientific knowledge, as described here by the words svādhyāya-śruta-sampannāḥ. They say that according to their scientific way, they have discovered that milk is dangerous and that the beef obtained by killing cows is very nutritious. This difference of opinion will always continue. Indeed, it has existed since days of yore. Millions of years ago, there was the same competition. The demons, as a result of their so-called Vedic study, preferred to hold the side of the snake near the mouth. The Supreme Personality of Godhead thought it wise to catch hold of the dangerous part of the snake and allow the demons to hold the tail, which was not dangerous, but because of a competitive desire, the demons thought it wise to hold the snake near the mouth. If the demigods were going to drink poison, the demons would resolve, “Why should we not share the poison and die gloriously by drinking it?”
In regard to the words svādhyāya-śruta-sampannāḥ prakhyātā janma-karmabhiḥ, another question may be raised. If one is actually educated in Vedic knowledge, is famous for performing prescribed activities and has been born in a great aristocratic family, why should he be called a demon? The answer is that one may be highly educated and may have been born in an aristocratic family, but if he is godless, if he does not listen to the instructions of God, then he is a demon. There are many examples in history of men like Hiraṇyakaśipu, Rāvaṇa and Kaṁsa who were well educated, who were born in aristocratic families and who were very powerful and chivalrous in fighting, but who, because of deriding the Supreme Personality of Godhead, were called Rākṣasas, or demons. One may be very well educated, but if he has no sense of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, no obedience to the Supreme Lord, he is a demon. That is described by the Lord Himself in Bhagavad-gītā (7.15):
na māṁ duṣkṛtino mūḍhāḥ
āsuraṁ bhāvam āśritāḥ
“Those miscreants who are grossly foolish, lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons, do not surrender unto Me.” Āsuraṁ bhāvam refers to not accepting the existence of God or the transcendental instructions of the Personality of Godhead. Bhagavad-gītā clearly consists of transcendental instructions imparted directly by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But asuras, instead of accepting these instructions directly, make commentaries according to their own whimsical ways and mislead everyone, without profit even for themselves. One should therefore be very careful of demoniac, godless persons. According to the words of Lord Kṛṣṇa, even if a godless demon is very well educated, he must be considered a mūḍha, narādhama and māyayāpahṛta jñāna.
pucchaṁ jagrāha sāmaraḥ
mamanthuḥ paramaṁ yattā
anādhāro hy apo ’viśat
dhriyamāṇo ’pi balibhir
āsan sva-pauruṣe naṣṭe
kṛtvā vapuḥ kacchapam adbhutam mahat
praviśya toyaṁ girim ujjahāra
Here is evidence that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the supreme controller of everything. As we have previously described, there are two classes of men — the demons and the demigods — but neither of them are supremely powerful. Everyone has experienced that hindrances are imposed upon us by the supreme power. The demons regard these hindrances as mere accidents or chance, but devotees accept them to be acts of the supreme ruler. When faced with hindrances, therefore, devotees pray to the Lord. Tat te ’nukampāṁ susamīkṣamāṇo bhuñjāna evātma-kṛtaṁ vipākam. Devotees endure hindrances, accepting them to be caused by the Supreme Personality of Godhead and regarding them as benedictions. Demons, however, being unable to understand the supreme controller, regard such hindrances as accidental. Here, of course, the Supreme Personality of Godhead was present personally. It was by His will that there were hindrances, and by His will those hindrances were removed. The Lord appeared as a tortoise to support the great mountain. Kṣitir iha vipulatare tava tiṣṭhati pṛṣṭhe. The Lord held the great mountain on His back. Keśava dhṛta-kūrma-śarīra jaya jagadīśa hare. Dangers can be created by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and they can also be removed by Him. This is known to devotees, but demons cannot understand it.
samudyatā nirmathituṁ surāsurāḥ
dadhāra pṛṣṭhena sa lakṣa-yojana-
prastāriṇā dvīpa ivāparo mahān
paribhramantaṁ girim aṅga pṛṣṭhataḥ
bibhrat tad-āvartanam ādi-kacchapo
mene ’ṅga-kaṇḍūyanam aprameyaḥ
The Supreme Personality of Godhead is always the unlimited. Although the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in His body as a tortoise, held on His back the largest of mountains, Mandara-parvata, He did not feel any inconvenience. On the contrary, He apparently felt some itching, and thus the rotation of the mountain was certainly very pleasing.
rūpeṇa teṣāṁ bala-vīryam īrayan
uddīpayan deva-gaṇāṁś ca viṣṇur
daivena nāgendram abodha-rūpaḥ
Everyone in this material world is under the different modes of material nature. There were three different parties in the churning of Mandara Mountain — the demigods, who were in the mode of goodness, the demons, who were in the mode of passion, and the snake Vāsuki, who was in the mode of ignorance. Since they were all becoming tired (Vāsuki so much so that he was almost going to die), Lord Viṣṇu, to encourage them to continue the work of churning the ocean, entered into them according to their respective modes of nature — goodness, passion and ignorance.
ākramya hastena sahasra-bāhuḥ
tasthau divi brahma-bhavendra-mukhyair
To balance Mandara Mountain while it was being pulled from both sides, the Lord Himself appeared on its summit like another great mountain. Lord Brahmā, Lord Śiva and King Indra then expanded themselves and showered flowers on the Lord.
pareṇa te prāviśatā samedhitāḥ
mamanthur abdhiṁ tarasā madotkaṭā
davāgni-dagdhāḥ saralā ivābhavan
samabhyavarṣan bhagavad-vaśā ghanā
yadā sudhā na jāyeta
mūrdhni bhrājad-vilulita-kacaḥ srag-dharo rakta-netraḥ
jaitrair dorbhir jagad-abhaya-dair dandaśūkaṁ gṛhītvā
mathnan mathnā pratigirir ivāśobhatātho dhṛtādriḥ
maholbaṇaṁ hālahalāhvam agrataḥ
visarpad utsarpad asahyam aprati
bhītāḥ prajā dudruvur aṅga seśvarā
arakṣyamāṇāḥ śaraṇaṁ sadāśivam
One may question that since the Supreme Personality of Godhead was personally present, why did He accompany all the demigods and people in general to take shelter of Lord Sadāśiva instead of intervening Himself. In this connection Śrīla Madhvācārya warns:
rudrasya yaśaso ’rthāya
svayaṁ viṣṇur viṣaṁ vibhuḥ
na sañjahre samartho ’pi
vāyuṁ coce praśāntaye
Lord Viṣṇu was competent to rectify the situation, but in order to give credit to Lord Śiva, who later drank all the poison and kept it in his neck, Lord Viṣṇu did not take action.
bhavāya devyābhimataṁ munīnām
āsīnam adrāv apavarga-hetos
tapo juṣāṇaṁ stutibhiḥ praṇemuḥ
trāhi naḥ śaraṇāpannāṁs
Since Lord Śiva is in charge of annihilation, why should he be approached for protection, which is given by Lord Viṣṇu? Lord Brahmā creates, and Lord Śiva annihilates, but both Lord Brahmā and Lord Śiva are incarnations of Lord Viṣṇu and are known as śaktyāveśa-avatāras. They are endowed with a special power like that of Lord Viṣṇu, who is actually all-pervading in their activities. Therefore whenever prayers for protection are offered to Lord Śiva, actually Lord Viṣṇu is indicated, for otherwise Lord Śiva is meant for destruction. Lord Śiva is one of the īśvaras, or the controllers known as śaktyāveśa-avatāras. Therefore he can be addressed as having the qualities of Lord Viṣṇu.
taṁ tvām arcanti kuśalāḥ
Actually Lord Viṣṇu maintains and accomplishes all good fortune. If one has to take shelter of Lord Viṣṇu, why should the demigods take shelter of Lord Śiva? They did so because Lord Viṣṇu acts through Lord Śiva in the creation of the material world. Lord Śiva acts on behalf of Lord Viṣṇu. When the Lord says in Bhagavad-gītā (14.4) that He is the father of all living entities (ahaṁ bīja-pradaḥ pitā), this refers to actions performed by Lord Viṣṇu through Lord Śiva. Lord Viṣṇu is always unattached to material activities, and when material activities are to be performed, Lord Viṣṇu performs them through Lord Śiva. Lord Śiva is therefore worshiped on the level of Lord Viṣṇu. When Lord Viṣṇu is untouched by the external energy He is Lord Viṣṇu, but when He is in touch with the external energy, He appears in His feature as Lord Śiva.
dhatse yadā sva-dṛg bhūman
This prayer is actually offered to Lord Viṣṇu, the puruṣa, who in His incarnations as the guṇa-avatāras assumes the names Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Maheśvara.
tvam ātmā jagad-īśvaraḥ
This prayer is offered to the impersonal Brahman, which consists of the effulgent rays of Parabrahman. Parabrahman is the Supreme Personality of Godhead (paraṁ brahma paraṁ dhāma pavitraṁ paramaṁ bhavān). When Lord Śiva is worshiped as Parabrahman, the worship is meant for Lord Viṣṇu.
kālaḥ kratuḥ satyam ṛtaṁ ca dharmas
tvayy akṣaraṁ yat tri-vṛd-āmananti
kṣitiṁ vidur loka-bhavāṅghri-paṅkajam
kālaṁ gatiṁ te ’khila-devatātmano
diśaś ca karṇau rasanaṁ jaleśam
In the śruti-mantras it is said, agniḥ sarva-devatāḥ: “Fire is the aggregate of all demigods.” Agni is the mouth of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is through Agni, or fire, that the Lord accepts all sacrificial oblations.
sūryaś ca cakṣūṁṣi jalaṁ sma retaḥ
somo mano dyaur bhagavan śiras te
romāṇi sarvauṣadhi-vīrudhas te
chandāṁsi sākṣāt tava sapta dhātavas
trayī-mayātman hṛdayaṁ sarva-dharmaḥ
yat tac chivākhyaṁ paramātma-tattvaṁ
deva svayaṁ-jyotir avasthitis te
The five mantras mentioned in this connection are as follows: (1) Puruṣa, (2) Aghora, (3) Sadyojāta, (4) Vāmadeva, and (5) Īśāna. These five mantras are within the category of thirty-eight special Vedic mantras chanted by Lord Śiva, who is therefore celebrated as Śiva or Mahādeva. Another reason why Lord Śiva is called Śiva, which means “all-auspicious,” is that he is self-illuminated, exactly like Lord Viṣṇu, who is the Paramātmā. Because Lord Śiva is directly an incarnation of Lord Viṣṇu, he is situated as Lord Viṣṇu’s direct representative. This fact is corroborated by a Vedic mantra: patiṁ viśvasyātmeśvaraṁ śāśvatam. śivam acyutam. The Supersoul is called by many names, of which Maheśvara, Śiva and Acyuta are especially mentioned.
sāṅkhyātmanaḥ śāstra-kṛtas tavekṣā
chandomayo deva ṛṣiḥ purāṇaḥ
jyotiḥ paraṁ yatra rajas tamaś ca
sattvaṁ na yad brahma nirasta-bhedam
The brahmajyoti is actually the effulgence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As stated in Brahma-saṁhitā (5.40):
yasya prabhā prabhavato jagad-aṇḍa-koṭi-
tad brahma niṣkalam anantam aśeṣa-bhūtaṁ
govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ tam ahaṁ bhajāmi
“I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, who is endowed with great power. The glowing effulgence of His transcendental form is the impersonal Brahman, which is absolute, complete and unlimited and which displays the varieties of countless planets, with their different opulences, in millions and millions of universes.” Although the impersonal feature of the Absolute is an expansion of the rays of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, He does not need to take care of the impersonalists who enter the brahmajyoti. Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad-gītā (9.4), mayā tatam idaṁ sarvaṁ jagad avyakta-mūrtinā: “In My impersonal feature I pervade this entire universe.” Thus the avyakta-mūrti, the impersonal feature, is certainly an expansion of Kṛṣṇa’s energy. Māyāvādīs, who prefer to merge into this Brahman effulgence, worship Lord Śiva. The mantras referred to in text 29 are called mukhāni pañcopaniṣadas taveśa. Māyāvādīs take all these mantras seriously in worshiping Lord Śiva. These mantras are as follows: (1) tat puruṣāya vidmahe śāntyai, (2) mahā-devāya dhīmahi vidyāyai, (3) tan no rudraḥ pratiṣṭhāyai, (4) pracodayāt dhṛtyai, (5) aghorebhyas tamā … , (6) atha ghorebhyo mohā … , (7) aghorebhyo rakṣā … , (8) aghoratarebhyo nidrā … , (9) sarvebhyaḥ sarva-vyādhyai, (10) sarva-sarvebhyo mṛtyave, (11) namas te ’stu kṣudhā … , (12) rudra-rūpebhyas tṛṣṇā … , (13) vāmadevāya rajā … , (14) jyeṣṭhāya svāhā … , (15) śreṣṭhāya ratyai, (16) rudrāya kalyāṇyai, (17) kālāya kāmā … , (18) kala-vikaraṇāya sandhinyai, (19) bala-vikaraṇāya kriyā … , (20) balāya vṛddhyai, (21) balacchāyā … , (22) pramathanāya dhātryai, (23) sarva-bhūta-damanāya bhrāmaṇyai, (24) manaḥ-śoṣiṇyai, (25) unmanāya jvarā … , (26) sadyojātaṁ prapadyāmi siddhyai, (27) sadyojātāya vai namaḥ ṛddhyai, (28) bhave dityai, (29) abhave lakṣmyai, (30) nātibhave medhā … , (31) bhajasva māṁ kāntyai, (32) bhava svadhā … , (33) udbhavāya prabhā … , (34) īśānaḥ sarva-vidyānāṁ śaśinyai, (35) īśvaraḥ sarva-bhūtānām abhaya-dā … , (36) brahmādhipatir brahmaṇodhipatir brahman brahmeṣṭa-dā … , (37) śivo me astu marīcyai, (38) sadāśivaḥ jvālinyai.
The impersonal Brahman is unknown even to the other directors of the material creation, including Lord Brahmā, Lord Indra and even Lord Viṣṇu. This does not mean, however, that Lord Viṣṇu is not omniscient. Lord Viṣṇu is omniscient, but He does not need to understand what is going on in His all-pervading expansion. Therefore in Bhagavad-gītā the Lord says that although everything is an expansion of Him (mayā tatam idaṁ sarvam), He does not need to take care of everything (na cāhaṁ teṣv avasthitaḥ), since there are various directors like Lord Brahmā, Lord Śiva and Indra.
bhūta-druhaḥ kṣapayataḥ stutaye na tat te
yas tv anta-kāla idam ātma-kṛtaṁ sva-netra-
vahni-sphuliṅga-śikhayā bhasitaṁ na veda
Since Lord Śiva considers the great acts he performs to be very unimportant, what was to be said of counteracting the strong poison produced by the churning? The demigods indirectly prayed that Lord Śiva counteract the kālakūṭa poison, which was spreading throughout the universe.
dvandvaṁ carantam umayā tapasābhitaptam
katthanta ugra-paruṣaṁ nirataṁ śmaśāne
te nūnam ūtim avidaṁs tava hāta-lajjāḥ
Lord Śiva is the topmost Vaiṣṇava (vaiṣṇavānāṁ yathā śambhuḥ). It is therefore said, vaiṣṇavera kriyā-mudrā vijñe nā bujhaya. Even the most intelligent person cannot understand what a Vaiṣṇava like Lord Śiva is doing or how he is acting. Those who are conquered by lusty desires and anger cannot estimate the glories of Lord Śiva, whose position is always transcendental. In all the activities associated with lusty desires, Lord Śiva is an implement of ātma-rāma. Ordinary persons, therefore, should not try to understand Lord Śiva and his activities. One who tries to criticize the activities of Lord Śiva is shameless.
nāñjaḥ svarūpa-gamane prabhavanti bhūmnaḥ
brahmādayaḥ kim uta saṁstavane vayaṁ tu
tat-sarga-sarga-viṣayā api śakti-mātram
na paraṁ te maheśvara
mṛḍanāya hi lokasya
vyaktis te ’vyakta-karmaṇaḥ
When the demigods offered these prayers to Lord Śiva, their inner purpose was to please him so that he would rectify the disturbing situation created by the hālahala poison. As stated in Bhagavad-gītā (7.20), kāmais tais tair hṛta jñānāḥ prapadyante ’nya-devatāḥ: when one worships demigods, this is certainly because of deep-rooted desires he wants fulfilled by the mercy of those demigods. People are generally attached to the worship of demigods for some motive.
idam āha satīṁ priyām
prajānāṁ paśya vaiśasam
vidheyam abhayaṁ hi me
etāvān hi prabhor artho
This is the characteristic of a Vaiṣṇava. Para-duḥkha-duḥkhī: a Vaiṣṇava is always unhappy to see the conditioned souls unhappy. Otherwise, he would have no business teaching them how to become happy. In materialistic life, people must certainly engage in activities of animosity. Materialistic life is therefore compared to saṁsāra-dāvānala, a blazing forest fire that automatically takes place. Lord Śiva and his followers in the paramparā system try to save people from this dangerous condition of materialistic life. This is the duty of devotees following the principles of Lord Śiva and belonging to the Rudra sampradāya. There are four Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas, and the Rudra sampradāya is one of them because Lord Śiva (Rudra) is the best of the Vaiṣṇavas (vaiṣṇavānāṁ yathā śambhuḥ). Indeed, as we shall see, Lord Śiva drank all the poison for the benefit of humanity.
sarvātmā prīyate hariḥ
prīte harau bhagavati
prīye ’haṁ sacarācaraḥ
tasmād idaṁ garaṁ bhuñje
prajānāṁ svastir astu me
tad viṣaṁ jagdhum ārebhe
vyāpi hālāhalaṁ viṣam
Although there was such a great quantity of poison that it spread all over the universe, Lord Śiva had such great power that he reduced the poison to a small quantity so that he could hold it in his palm. One should not try to imitate Lord Śiva. Lord Śiva can do whatever he likes, but those who try to imitate Lord Śiva by smoking ganja and other poisonous things will certainly be killed because of such activities.
yac cakāra gale nīlaṁ
tac ca sādhor vibhūṣaṇam
sādhavaḥ prāyaśo janāḥ
paramārādhanaṁ tad dhi
Here is an explanation of how those engaged in activities for the welfare of others are very quickly recognized by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Lord says in Bhagavad-gītā (18.68-69), ya idaṁ paramaṁ guhyaṁ mad-bhakteṣv abhidhāsyati … na ca tasmān manuṣyeṣu kaścin me priya-kṛttamaḥ: “One who preaches the message of Bhagavad-gītā to My devotees is most dear to Me. No one can excel him in satisfying Me by worship.” There are different kinds of welfare activities in this material world, but the supreme welfare activity is the spreading of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Other welfare activities cannot be effective, for the laws of nature and the results of karma cannot be checked. It is by destiny, or the laws of karma, that one must suffer or enjoy. For instance, if one is given a court order, he must accept it, whether it brings suffering or profit. Similarly, everyone is under obligations to karma and it reactions. No one can change this. Therefore the śāstra says:
tasyaiva hetoḥ prayateta kovido
na labhyate yad bhramatām upary adhaḥ
One should endeavor for that which is never obtained by wandering up and down the universe as a result of the reactions of karma. What is that? One should endeavor to become Kṛṣṇa conscious. If one tries to spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness all over the world, he should be understood to be performing the best welfare activity. The Lord is automatically very pleased with him. If the Lord is pleased with him, what is left for him to achieve? If one has been recognized by the Lord, even if he does not ask the Lord for anything, the Lord, who is within everyone, supplies him whatever he wants. This is also confirmed in Bhagavad-gītā (teṣāṁ nityābhiyuktānāṁ yoga-kṣemaṁ vahāmy aham). Again, as stated here, tapyante loka-tāpena sādhavaḥ prāyaśo janāḥ. The best welfare activity is raising people to the platform of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, since the conditioned souls are suffering only for want of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. The Lord Himself also comes to mitigate the suffering of humanity.
yadā yadā hi dharmasya
glānir bhavati bhārata
tadātmānaṁ sṛjāmy aham
vināśāya ca duṣkṛtām
sambhavāmi yuge yuge
“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion — at that time I descend Myself. To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I Myself appear millennium after millennium.” (Bg. 4.7-8) All the śāstras conclude, therefore, that spreading the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is the best welfare activity in the world. Because of the ultimate benefit this bestows upon people in general, the Lord very quickly recognizes such service performed by a devotee.
prajā dākṣāyaṇī brahmā
vaikuṇṭhaś ca śaśaṁsire
yat kiñcij jagṛhuḥ sma tat
dandaśūkāś ca ye ’pare
Mosquitoes, jackals, dogs and other varieties of dandaśūka, or animals whose bites are poisonous, drank the poison of the samudra-manthana, the churned ocean, since it was available after it fell from the palms of Lord Śiva.
Thus end the Bhaktivedanta purports of the Eighth Canto, Seventh Chapter, of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, entitled “Lord Śiva Saves the Universe by Drinking Poison.”