The Brahmanda Purana

by G.V. Tagare | 1958 | 319,243 words | ISBN-10: 8120838246 | ISBN-13: 9788120838246

This page describes origin of the epithet nilakantha (shiva swallowing poison) which is Chapter 25 of the English translation of the Brahmanda Purana: one of the oldest puranas including common Puranic elements such as cosmogony, genealogy, ethics, geography and yoga. Traditionally, the Brahmandapurana is said to consist of 12,000 verses metrical Sanskrit verses.

Chapter 25 - Origin of the Epithet Nīlakaṇṭha (Śiva swallowing poison)

Note: This popular story as to how Śiva’s throat became blue due to drinking the deadly poison Kālakūṭa appears in the Mahābhārata (Adi. 18.41-43) and other Purāṇas. The text of this chapter from V. 6 onwards is the same as that of the Vāyu-purāṇa 54.10ff.

Sūta said:

1. After recounting this (astronomical information in the last chapter) Lord Vāyu (The Wind god) of very great intellect and who is (always) engaged in what is conducive to the welfare of the world, commenced the Japa (muttering in an undertone the Mantra) that was to be chanted when the sun reached the middle of the sky.

2. All those sages who had assembled there and who had perfect control over their own selves, stood up with palms joined in reverence.

3. The Wind god prayed: “O Nīlakaṇṭha, obeisance to you who ought to be worshipped at the end of religious observances, and who are the lord of all living beings, animating them all.”

4-5. On hearing this, those sages of pure souls, of Praiseworthy religious observance and famous as Vālakhilyas, eighty-eight thousand in number, who, of sublimated sexual impulse, walked by the side of the sun (as his associates) and subsisted on leaves, (of trees), wind and water, submitted to Vāyu as follows:

6-7. “O excellent Wind-god, O most excellent one among those conversant with meritorious things, we wish to hear (more about) what is mentioned by you as “Nīlakaṇṭha”. It is the most meritorious thing among sacred ones. O excellent one, recount that unto us. O Prabhañjana (Winḍ-god), by your grace, we wish to hear everything.

8. What is the reason whereby the neck of the Lord of Ambikā (i.e. god Śiva) had become blue? O lord, we wish to hear this particularly from your mouth (i.e. as directly mentioned by you).

9. All verbal utterances are impelled by you, O Vāyu. The function of speech is dependent on Varṇa (sound of letters) and Sthāna (place of articulation).

10. The intelligent enthusiasm is activated by you. It is (only) when you sanctify them that the remaining Varṇas begin to function.

11. The existence of the Varṇas is only due to you, from whom the utterances recede and wherein the colours of the body are rare. O Anila (wind god), you are always omnipresent (and have access everywhere).

12. Excepting you, O Samīraṇa (wind god), there is no one who pervades everything. This living world is directly perceptible to you from all sides, O Anila (wind-god).

13. You know the lord of speech, Īśvara, the leader (controller) of minds. Tell us wherefore (for what) is there an aberration of the colour and feature in the region of his neck (throat)

14. On hearing the words of those sages of sanctified souls, Vāyu who has great splendour and who is revered by the world, replied.

15. “Formerly, in Kṛtayuga, there was a Brāhmaṇa called Vasiṣṭha who was extremely interested in deciding the (meaning of) Vedas. He was a righteous soul. He was the mental son (of Brahmā). He was a Prajāpati.

16-19. He asked Kārttikeya who has a peacock as his excellent vehicle. He had stolen the collyrium from the eyes of the wives of the demon Mahiṣa (i.e. he made them widows by killing Mahiṣa). He is a noble soul (named) Mahāsena, whose voice resembles the rumbliṅg sound of the clouds. He appeared to see the joyous ebullitions of the mind of Umā, by assuming the false form of a boy. He took away the life of Krauñca, and delighted the heart of Gaurî, (He submitted): “O excellent one, what is this radiant thing, resembling collyrium, seen in the neck (of Śiva) which is as (white and) lustrous as the Kunda flower and the Moon? How has it happened so? Narrate this to me, a suppliant who am brilliant, devoted and have perfect self-control.

20. O extremely fortunate one, it behoves you to detail everything without excluding anything. Narrate this auspicious and sacred story that destroys all sins. Please tell us this story for my delight.”

21. On hearing those words of that noble-souled Vasiṣṭha, Skanda, the extremely resplendent destroyer of the army of the enemies of gods (i.e. Asuras), replied:

22-23. “Listen to these words repeated by me, O most excellent one among eloquent persons, (I am repeating) what has been heard by me before, as I sat on the lap of Umā. This is the conversation of the noble-souled Śarva (Śiva) with Pārvatī. I shall recount that, O great sage, for your delight.

24-40. On the beautiful peak of the Kailāsa mountain, lord Śiva the destroyer of the body of Madana (God of Love) was seated comfortably on a rocky slab covered with gold and bedecked with pure pearls, jewels, and gems.

The beautiful peak of the Kailāsa is variegated on account of different kinds of minerals. It resembled the sun at midday and had the lustre of molten gold. It had stairs built of diamonds and crystals, with steps of rocky surfaces of variegated forms. It was full of gold and was divinely variegated on account of the different kinds of minerals. It is interspersed with various kinds of trees and creepers laden with different kinds of flowers and fruits. It was filled with Haṃsas (swans) and Kāraṇḍavas (ducks). It was beautified by Cakravāka birds (Ruddy geese). Many bees were singing (humming) at a high pitch there. It was resonant with the continuous sound of water-falls. Its caves were resounded with the sounds of intoxicated peacocks and Krauñca birds. It was filled with bevies of celestial damsels. It was beautified by Kinnaras. The chirping sound of the different varieties of Jīvaṃjīvaka birds (a mythial bird with two heads) spread everywhere in it. In many places, the cooing sound of the cuckoo-birds was heard. It was frequented by Siddhas and Cāraṇas. It had the sound of oxen whose sound resembled the rumblings of clouds. There were other sounds as well. The elephants were agitated on account of Vināyaka and they left their caves. There were sounds of the musical instruments like Vīṇā (lute) and other (musical instruments). They were fascinating to the ears. Groups of people were swinging by means of Dolās (swings). It was resorted to by bevies of ladies. It was echoing with the sound of the bells fitted to the swings suspended from the flagstaff. There were many musical instruments such as the Vallakīs (lutes) and Veṇus (flutes). It was as much resounded as though there were thirty peacocks (crying). The caves were filled with the sounds of vocal music, drums, musical instruments which were played upon and which were beaten and also with (hurryings for play) and disputes (arguments). Swans, pigeons and royal cranes were happily perched there. The lord of the Gaṇas (i.e. Vighnarāja) was sporting about with various kinds of fixations (poses), of the body. The lord of the Bhūtas (Spirits) was surrounded by Bhūtas of various sorts. (For example) some had the faces of lions and tigers. Some were producing terrible cries. They had terrific speed. Others had the faces of deer, sheep, elephants and horses Others were hideous with faces of cats or form of foxes. Some were short, some were tall; some were very lean. Some had protruding bellies; some had huge bellies; some had short-shanks; some had lips hanging loose; others had huge palm-like shanks. Some had the ears of cows; some had a single ears; some had huge ears; some had no ears; sorṇe had many feet; some had huge feet; some had single foot; some had no foot; some had many eyes; some had large eyes; some had a single eye; some had no eye; some had a single curved tooth; some had huge curved teeth; some had many curved teeth; some had no curved tooth at all. Some had huge heads; some had many heads; some had no head at all. Some had a single tongue; some had huge tongues; some had many tongues; some had no tongue at all.

The daughter of the King of mountains spoke thus to lord Śiva.

41-43. “O lord, Master of the past and the future, O lord whose authority has been marked by a bullock (i.e. bull-bannered one), there is something sparkling in your neck, O great lord, resembling a cloud. O lord, O destroyer of the body of Kāma, what is this that shines in your white neck? It is not very deep and manifest. What is the cause? What is the reason that your neck is bluish, O lord? Narrate all these duly (as I have got curiosity and) I am eager (to hear it)

44. On hearing the words of Pārvatī, the lover of Pārvatī, Śaṅkara, recounted the story fully endued with auspiciousness.

Maheśvara said:

45. Formerly, when the milk-ocean, was being churned by the Devas and Dānavas for the sake of Amṛta (nectar), a terrible poison as sparkling as the dark fire cropped up.

46. On seeing, O lady of excellent face, the multitudes of Devas and Daityas became dejected. All of them approached Brahmā.

47. On seeing the frightened groups of Devas, Brahmā of great splendour, asked: “O highly fortunate ones, why are you frightened? Why are you dejected in the mind?

48. Three-fold prosperity and power has been conferred by me on you all, O excellent Devas. By whom has your prosperity been turned off?

49. You are the lords and masters of the three worlds. All of you are free from ailments. In the creation of subjects there is no one who dares to transgress my behest.

50. All of you move about in aerial chariots. All of you go about as you please. (All of you are very competent) in regard to spiritual things, worldly beings and providential ones for ever).

51. You are competent to make all the subjects function in accordance with the consequence of their previous actions. Hence, why are you all agitated due to fear like the deer harassed by lion?

52. What is your misery? What is your distress? Whence has fear befallen you? It behoves you to explain quickly all these things duly”.

53. On hearing the words of Brahmā, the supreme soul, those Devas, leading Daityas and Dānavas accompanied by the sages said:

54-59a. “O Pitāmaha (Brahmā, the grandfather) when the ocean was being churned by the Devas and Asuras, a terrible poison had turned up. It resembled serpents and black bees. It was like the blue cloud. It had the sparkling lustre of the Saṃvarta fire (the fire that burns down [??] universe at the end of a Kalpa). It had cropped up like the god of death and destruction. It had the fiery splendour of the sun at the end of the Yugas. It had the brilliance of the sun capable of annihilating the three worlds. It spread all round.

Janārdana of reddish white body had been rendered black on being scorched by that poison whose lustre is on a par with the dark fire of ultimate destruction.

On seeing Janārdana of white reddish limbs being rendered black by its burning, all of us became frightened and we sought refuge in you alone”.

On hearing the frightful words of the Devas and the Asuras, Brahmā of great splendour, the grandfather of the worlds replied:

59b-63. “O Devas, sages and ascetics, listen all of you. The poison that has the lustre of the dark fire of destruction and what we all know as Kālakūṭa has appeared while the great ocean was being churned. Immediate by its very appearance, Devas lost all lustre and they did not shine the moment it cropped up. Neither Viṣṇu, nor I nor all the leading Devas can bear the brunt of its attack excepting god Śaṅkara”.

After saying this, Brahmā who had the lustre of the interior of a lotus, whose source of origin is lotus, who was not born of any womb and who was the foremost among those who were conversant with the Vedas, remembered Oṃkāra and meditated on the divine lustre (that is present all round. Thereafter god Brahmā, began to eulogise.

Eulogy of God Śiva:[1]

64. “O Virūpākṣa (Lord ofuneven-three-eyes) obeisance unto you. Hail to you of divine eyes. Salute unto the lord with the Pināka bow in his hand. Obeisance to the god with a thunderbolt in his hand.

65. Obeisance to the lord of the three worlds. Salute to the lord of all living beings. Bow to the slayer of the enemies of the Devas. Hail to the lord with the moon, the sun and the fire for his eyes.

66. Obeisance unto thee who are Brahmā, Rudra and Viṣṇu. Bow to the Sāṃkhya; to the Yoga. Obeisance to the assemblage of all spirits (incarnate).

67. Hail to the destroyer of the body of Manmatha (God of Love). Obeisance to the lord with Time (kāla) for his back. Obeisance to Rudra of excellent semen. Bow to the lord of the Devas and to the Vehement one.

68. Obeisance to Kapardin (one having matted hair), to Śaṅkara the terrible one. Hail to Hara, the bearer of a skull, one of hideous features, Obeisance to Śiva the bestower of boons.

69. Obeisance to the destroyer of the three cities (of demons). Bow to the destroyer of the sacrifice (of Dakṣa). Hail to the lord of the mothers. Obeisance to the Vṛddha (the ancient god); Obeisance to Śuddha (the pure one), to the Mukta (Liberated one); obeisance to the mighty one.

70. Obeisance to the sole hero among the three worlds, to the moon, to Varuṇa; to Agra (the foremost one), to Ugra (the terrible one); to Vipra (knower of the Vedas) of many eyes.

71. Obeisance to Rajas, to Sattva; obeisance unto you of unmanifest origin. Bow to the Eternal one; to the non-eternal one; and to the eternal-cum-non-eternal one.

72. Hail to the manifest one, to the Unmanifest one, as well as to the manifest-cum-unmanifest one. Obeisance to the Cintya (one who can be contemplated upon; obeisance to the Acintya (one who is beyond contemplation); Obeisance to the Cintya-cum-Acintya one.

73. Obeisance to the dispeller of distress of all the worlds; Bow to the lord who is fond of Nārāyaṇa; Obeisance to Śarva, the lover of Umā, Hail to the lord marked with the face of Nandin? (nandi-vaktrāṅkitāya)[2]

74. Hail to (the lord identifying himself with) Pakṣa (fortnight), Māsa (Month) and Ardhamāsa (half a month); obeisance to (the Lord, the identifier with) the season and Saṃvatsara (year); Bow to the lord of many forms, to the lord with shaven head, to the lord bearing a staff, to the lord wearing a mailed armour.

75. Obeisance to the lord with the skull in his hand; Bow to the god having quarters for his raiment (the naked one); to one with a tufted head; Obeisance to the lord with a bow and a chariot, and to the celibate god with self control.

76-78. Obeisance to the embodiment of Ṛk, Yajus and Sāmaveda; obeisance to Puruṣa, the supreme lord. Bow unto you who are worthy of being eulogised by prayers composed like this.”

After eulogising like this, O lady of excellent face, Brahmā bowed down (and praised once again).

“O lord Rudra, (even) after knowing my devotion as well as that of the Devas, you do not manifest yourself. Though you had released your (matted) hair and got it splashed with the waters of the Gaṅgā, (yet) you are too subtle, to be contemplated upon, on account of your supreme Yogic power”.

Thus I was eulogised formerly by lord Brahmā, the creator of the worlds, by means of various kinds of hymns originating from the Vedas and Vedāṅgas (ancillary parts of the vedas).

Thereupon, I spoke to Pitāmaha Brahmā in important words:

79-80. “O lord of the worlds, O lord of the past, present and future, O lord of the universe, O Brahmā, what should be done by me unto you. Tell me, O lord of holy rites”.1 293

On hearing these words, the lotus-eyed Brahmā replied.

81-82- “O lord of the past, present and future, let this be heard, O lord, (cause of everything), O lotus-eyed lord, when the ocean was being churned by the Devas ānd Asuras, a terrible poison resembling clouds appeared. O lord, It appeared like blue clouds. It had a lustre similar to that of Saṃvarta fire.

83. On seeing it, all of us were frightened and agitated in the mind. O great lord, swallow it up with a desire for the welfare of the worlds.

84. You alone are competent to swallow it. There is no one other than you O great lord, to bear the brunt of its advance”.

85-87a. On hearing these words of Brahmā the Parameṣṭhin, O lady of excellent face, I accepted the proposal saying, “so” Then I began to drink the poison that was like the god of death. Even as I drank the extremely terrible poison that accorded great fright unto the Devas, O lady of excellent complexion, my throat turned black immediately.

87b-88. On seeing it, which had the lustre of the petals of lily, which appeared like a serpent clinging to my neck and which was like Takṣaka the king of serpents, who had risen up and begun to lick with his tongues, Brahmā of great splendour, the grandfather of the worlds spoke thus:

89-90a. “You shine splendidly O great lord of excellent holy rites,‘with this (such) neck”.

On hearing his words, O daughter of the most excellent one among the mountains, the terrible poison was held by me in the throat itself. Therefore, I became Nīlakaṇṭha (Blue-throated god).

90b. I drank it even as the groups of Devas, Daityas, Yakṣas, Gandharvas, Bhūtas, Piśācas, serpents and Rākṣasas were looking on, O lady of excellent face.

91. That Kālakūṭa, the poison of terrible action, was retained by me in my throat. On seeing it being contained thus, the groups of Devas and Daityas became extremely surprised.

92. Thereafter, O lady of the gait of intoxicated elephant, the groups of Devas along with the Daityas, serpents and Rākṣasas said thus with palms joined in reverence.

93. “O how wonderful are your strength, virility and exploit, O lord. Your body and Yogic power are simply wonderful.

94. O lord of the Devas, your supremacy is extremely wonderful, O destroyer of the body of Manmatha.

You alone are Viṣṇu. You are the four-faced (lord Brahmā); You alone are the god of death. You alone are the bestower of boons.

95. You alone are the sun and the moon. You alone are the manifestation of this world of mobile and immobile beings.

You alone are the (element called) fire. You alone are the element wind. You alone are the (element called) earth. You alone are the water (you constitute all the elements).

96. You alone are the creator and sustainer of the entire world of mobile and immobile beings. You alone are its annihilation (i.e. annihilator)”

After saying these words, the leading Devas bowed down their heads. Taking Soma (? Nectar, Moon) with them, they went away by means of aerial chariots with a speed equal to that of Wind, till they all reached the Meru, the great mountain.

97-98. Thus the highly meritorious and extremely holy (story about the name) Nīlakaṇṭha has been recounted. It is well known in the three worlds.

This story that destroys sins has been directly recounted by the self-born lord (Brahma) himself.

99. I shall mention the extensive benefit acquired by the person who retains in memory this splendid narrative proclaimed by Brahmā.

100. O lady of great beauty and excellent hip, all poisons whether mobile or immobile (solid or liquid?) are immediately destroyed on coming into contact with his body.

101. It subdues all terrible inauspicious features. It dispels and decreases (the effect of) evil dreams. The person attains the state of a lover uṇto women and an honourable person in the council of the king.

102. He wins arguments. He becomes victorious in battle. When, travelling, he does so with safety and welfare. His house is full with perpetual prosperity.

103-105. O lady of excellent face, I shall describe the mode of attainment of his body.[3] His moustache becomes reddish brown. His throat becomes blue. His hair is beautifully marked by the moon. He has three eyes and he wields a trident in his hand. His vehicle is a bullock. He holds Pināka bow in. his hand. He is prosperous with the strength and exploit equal to that of Nandin. At my behest he traverses the seven worlds. His gait (movement) is unimpeded like that of the wind in the sky.

106-107. Acquiring a strength equal to that of mine, he stands steady till the annihilation of all living beings.

I shall mention the goal of those persons who devoutly listen to my story, O beautiful lady, I shall mention their destination here and hereafter.

The Brāhmaṇa acquires Vedic knowledge. The Kṣatriya conquers the earth.

108. The Vaiśya acquires profit. The Śūdra shall attain happiness. The sick man is rid of his ailments. The fettered one is released from imprisonment.

109. The pregnant woman obtains a son; the virgin gets a good husband. Every one obtains the lost wealth here and hereafter.

110. By hearing this divine story a man obtains the same benefit or merit as that obtained by duly offering as gift a hundred thousand cows to the Brāhmaṇas.

111. He who retains in memory a foot or half a foot, a. quatrain or a distitch (of this story) goes to the world of Rudra for ever.

112-113. He who reads this entirely with the mind directed towards me, in the presence of deities and Brāhmaṇas attains the world of Rudra. He should have faith and devotion for ever. O goddess, the man should always read devoutly and make others read so.

114. A prayer greater than this, there never had been before nor will ever be. Neither the Yakṣas, nor the Piśācas, neither the goblins nor Vināyakas (spirits creating impediment) shall bring about any obstacle in the house of that person where this prayer is kept.

115. O lady of lotuslike eyes, the greatness of this prayer has been mentioned by me to you as I am delighted. It is destructive of multitudes of sins. It is accompanied by the merit of holiness. It is sung by the four-faced lord himself.

116. After recounting this story endued with the fruits of meritorious deeds to the goddess, the lord whose matted hair has been fixed with the moon and who is fond of Guha (Kārttikeya) went to Kailāsa cave on the back of his Bull. He was accompanied by Umā.

117. This story that dispels sins has been heard by me from Prajāpati. It is recounted to you.

After learning this entirely along with all the characteristics, the excellent Brāhmaṇa proceeds to the region of the sun.

Footnotes and references:


In Purāṇas it is customary to attribute the highest epithets to the deity eulogised. Sometimes it results in a string of names or adjectives. Here god Śiva is regarded as equivalent to the Para Brahman aṇḍ in addition to his mythological exploits, epithets applicable to the Para Brahman are included in this eulogy.

We find Śiva so glorified in Tai. Saṃhitā IV.5 (Rudrādhyāya) and the Mahā Nārāyaṇīya Upa. X 17-21. The Sahasranāmas (garlands of a thousand, epithets) of these deities is a Purāṇic development. The Viṣṇusahasranāma in the Mbh. is perhaps the earliest example of this.


Vā.P.55.76 reads: nandī-cakrāṅkitaya ‘marked with the cakra of Nandi (?)’.


This is the attainment of Sārūpya ‘Similarity of appearance’ with, god Śiva.

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