I want to know if Adi Shankaracharya said that the five Panchatayana deities (Shiva, Surya, Vishnu, Durga, Ganesh) are Saguna Brahman from his works.

Did he differentiate between them or said all are equal?

I don't want any references from stotras (my college teacher who is an advaitin told many could be later works attributed to Shankara).

This answer analyses various aspects and at first look it looks like Adi Shankaracharya would not have established both the systems of pancayatana and sanmathas.

Is it ok for an Advaitin who is follower of Shankara to declare his own Ishta devata as superior to others?

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    Not sure if he explicitly mentioned it anywhere but the Smarta tradition (that worships these five gods) generally talks about Adi Shankara as a founder. – Dr. Vineet Aggarwal Jan 10 '19 at 10:45
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    @Dr.VineetAggarwal Smartha means follower of Smriti. Sri Shankara is not the founder of that tradition. Even the non-advaitins like srivaishnavas are also smarthas in that sense. It is only in relatively recent times that Smartha became interchangeable with advaitin. – Ambi Jan 10 '19 at 10:58
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    @prasannaragothaman Umm... Srivaishnavas are certainly not advaitins. Beyond some similiarity in their name, they are very different. If you are disagreeing with that, then that should be another question by itself. – Ambi Jan 10 '19 at 11:38
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    @prasannaragothaman no they don't. There are several answers that describe the differences right here on this site. – Ambi Jan 10 '19 at 11:52
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    @krr Shankaracharya said Vishnu is the Saguna Brahman, not other Devatas. – Ikshvaku Jan 10 '19 at 16:32

Since you believe the Stotrams attributed to Adi Shankara are later works, I guess then it will be difficult to prove that he believed all the Panchatayana deities as Saguna Brahman. This is because his major works only refer to Sriman Narayana as supreme alone.

For example, his Bhagavad Gita commentary states that nobody is equal to Sriman Narayana:

Asi, You are; pita, the Father, the Progenitor; lokasya, off all beings; cara-acarasya, moving and nonmoving. Not only are Yur are Father of this world, You are also pujyah, worthy of worship; since You are the guruh, Teacher; [He is the Teacher since He introduce the line of teachers of what is virtue and vice, and of the knowledge of the Self. And He is greater than a teacher because He is the teacher even of Hiranyagarbha and others.] gariyan, greater (than a teacher). How are You greater? In answer he says: Asti, there is; na, none other; tvat-samah, equal to You; for there is no possibility of two Gods. Because all dealings will come to naught if there be many Gods! When there is no possibility of another being equal toYou, kutah eva, how at all; can there be anyah, anyone; abhyadhikah, greater; api, even; loka- traye, in all the three worlds; apratima-prabhavah, O you of unrivalled power? That by which something is measured is pratima. You who have no measure for Your power (prabhava) are a pratima-prabhavah. Apratima-prabhava means 'O You of limitless power!' Since this is so, (Adi Shankara's commentary on Bhagavad Gita 11.43)

In Bhagavad Gita 9.25, he explicity states that worshipping other deities is not the same as worshipping Vishnu:

Deva-vratah, votaries of the gods, those whose religious observances [Making offerings and presents, circumambulation, bowing down, etc.] and devotion are directed to the gods; yanti, reach, go to; devan, the gods. Pitr-vratah, the votaries of the manes, those who are occupied with such rites as obsequies etc., who are devoted to the manes; go pitrn, to the manes such as Agnisvatta and others. Bhutejyah, the Beings such as Vinayaka, the group of Sixteen (divine) Mothers, the Four Sisters, and others. And madyajinah, those who worship Me, those who are given to worshipping Me, the devotees of Visnu; reach mam, Me alone. Although the effort (involved) is the same, still owing to ingorance they do not worship Me exclusively. Thereby they attain lesser results. This is the meaning. 'Not only do My devotees get the everlasting result in the form of non-return (to this world), but My worship also is easy.' How? (Adi Shankara's commentary on Bhagavad Gita 9.25)

Again, in Bhagavad Gita 6.47, he clearly differentiates meditation on Rudra (Shiva) and Aditya (Surya) from meditation on Vasudeva (Vishnu) and even terms the latter superior:

Api, even; sarvesam yoginam, among all the yogis, among those who are immersed in meditation on Rudra, Aditya, and others; yah, he who; bhajate, adores; mam, Me; antaratmana,with his mind; madgatena, fixed on Me, concentrated on Me who am Vasudeva; and sraddhavan, with faith, becoming filled with faith; sah, he; is matah, considered; me, by Me; to be yukta-tamah, the best of the yogis, engaged in Yoga most intensely. [It has been shown thus far that Karma-yoga has monasticism as its ultimate culmination. And in the course of expounding Dhyana-yoga together with its ausxiliaries, and instructing about the means to control the mind, the Lord rules out the possibility of absolute ruin for a person fallen from Yoga. He has also stated that steadfastness in Knowledge is for a man who knows the meaning of the word tvam (thou) (in 'Thou are That'). All these instructions amount to declaring that Liberation comes from the knowledge of the great Upanisadic saying, 'Thou art That.']

In Bhagavad Gita 7.20, he says people who worship deities other than Vasudeva lack wisdom:

People, hrta-jnanah, deprived of their wisdom, deprived of their discriminating knowledge; taih taih kamaih, by desires for various objects, such as progeny, cattle, heaven, etc.; and niyatah, guided, compelled; svaya prakrtya, by their own nature, by particular tendencies gathered in the past lives; prapadyante, resort; anya-devatah, to other deities, who are different from Vasudeva, the Self; asthaya, following taking the help of; tam tam niyamam,the relevant methods-those processes that are well known for the adoration of the concerned deities.

In his commentary on Brahma Sutras 1.2.17, he once again explicitly states that Surya cannot be regarded as supreme:

Selfhood cannot be ascribed to the sun, on account of his externality (parâgrûpatva). Immortality,&c. also cannot be predicated of him, as Scripture speaks of his origin and his dissolution. For the (so-called) deathlessness of the gods only means their (comparatively) long existence. And their lordly power also is based on the highest Lord and does not naturally belong to them; as the mantra declares, 'From terror of it (Brahman) the wind blows, from terror the sun rises; from terror of it Agni and Indra, yea, Death runs as the fifth.'--Hence the person in the eye must be viewed as the highest Lord only.

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    @NaveenKick Have you read this answer to the same question? hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/22226 – Sarvabhouma Jan 10 '19 at 18:15
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    Vinayaka of 9.25 may be referring to ghostly creatures instead of Lord Ganesha.. see this vedabase.io/en/library/sb/10/6/27-29 – user16618 Jan 10 '19 at 18:27
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    Not that stotrams are not Shankara's, but many could be later works.. So for definitive evidence, it is better to focus on his core works.. – user16895 Jan 11 '19 at 7:20
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    Your answer seems more neutral than other two. – user16895 Jan 16 '19 at 16:25
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    @Partha I added another piece (this time from Brahma Sutras) where Shankara is clearly refuting the idea of Surya being Ishvara. – user9969 Feb 19 '19 at 19:20

It would seem there is a misunderstanding on your part. When Saguna Brahman (Iswara) is seen by an individual - through maya - in different 'aspects', Iswara is perceived as Siva, Vishnu, Annapurna, etc,etc. The use of the English word 'diety' or 'dieties' or 'gods' usually lead to confusion as many interpret it as the devas. It is through the 'eye' of the individual, in maya, that Saguna Brahman - Iswara - is perceived in different aspects. It is not that they are 'equal', they are the same. Shankaracharya writes in his Srih Jivamuktananda-lahari verse 14, The Wave of Bliss of the Liberated While Alive (published in Advaita-Prakarana-Manjari: A Bouquet of Non-Dual Texts translators Dr. H. Ramamoorthy and Nome:

Sometimes in the company of Saiva-s, and, sometimes, also living along with Sakta-s,

At times with devotees of Vishnu and sometimes, also, along with the followers of the Sun-god,

Living, at times, with the followers of Ganapati, all differences gone in the manner of the Nondual,

The sage experiences no bewilderment, all ignorance (darkness, illusion) destroyed by the initiation of the Guru.

The line 'all differences gone in the manner of the non-dual' is the purport of the Advaita. At the end of his translation of his translation of Shankara's Atmabodha (Self-Knowledge), Swami Nikhilananda includes an Appendix of poems by Sankara. In different poems Sankara praises Siva, Vishnu, and the Divine Mother as the Supreme. Sankara was an Advaitan (NOT TWO). To try and find in him a favoritism to one aspect in his teaching is to forget this.

One's own Ishta-devata is the one that is superior for you, it is not 'the' one for all, it is the one that best fits your personality and birth.


No, Shankaracharya did not accept the equality of all gods. According to him, Vishnu is the Saguna Brahman, or the supreme being that has a Shuddha Sattva Upadhi.

He quotes a verse from the Mahabharata in his Vishnu Sahasranama Bhashya:

"In the Vedas, Ramayana, and Mahabharata, Vishnu is alone proclaimed as the highest everywhere"

Also, in his Bhagavad Gita Bhashya (9.23-9.25), Shankaracharya says worshipers of other deities, such as Vinayaka etc. obtain finite results, whereas the Vaishnavas, who worship Lord Vasudeva (Vishnu) obtain the eternal fruit of Moksha.


Shankara did believe in the equality of the five gods this is also clearly mentioned in the Yajurveda sandhyavandam and the Atharva Veda as well as Yajur and Rigveda.

From Yajurveda sandhyavndam. namaH savitre jagadeka chakShuShe jagat prasUti sthitinAsha hetave| viri~nchi nArAyaNa shaMkarAtmane

In this verse the quality of Shankara and Narayan is established. Then in the following verse Sri Krishna is described and worshipped as the absolute. However because Sri Krishna is an avatar of Narayan and Narayan is equated to being the same as shiva in the Yajurveda sandhyavandam then one valid interpretation of the verse is that Shankara is also Krishna and therefore the qualities of Krishna who is Narayana are indirectly attributable to shiva.

The atharvaveda also teaches the same be it Narayana suktam of atharvaveda or Ganapati atharvashirsha or suryoupanashad or the Sri suktam in rgveda all establish the equality among Devi’s and devatas by saying tvam Brahma tvam vishnus tvam Rudras etc. and then hone in on the worship of a specific form of the purusha

Therefore Shankara being a proponent of the panchayatana puja would of course hold the above view that the purusha alone is true the gods are one and the same, but depending on what one temperaments and tendencies are they can worship the supreme in one of five accepted forms. Aditya Vishnu Devi Ganapati or Surya.

The best analogy as given by Shri Saraswati the current jagadguru of Puri math. The palm is the purusha the five fingers are the five aspects of the purusha. Ganesha is mercy, devi is punishment/control, Aditya is creation, shiva represents the destruction of ego, Vishnu represents the upholder of dharma. Paraphrasing of course. So yes in a nutshell Shankara believed the gods were equal and were just different aspects of the supreme purusha.

Here is an. Good video by puri Shankaracharya https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=XdG-dM142Vo

Ultimately though worship of Saguna leads to worship of nirguna due to guidance of Saguna form of Brahman and ultimately unity with the all pervading consciousness.

This is the views held by the shankar acharyas of at least shringeri and Puri Nathan’s and they being the direct disciples in the succession from Bhagavatapada to Shankara to present day as part of the Guru shishya paramours are the authority on advaita and thus their interpretation of Shankara works is the correct interpretation and to them they believe in panchayatan puja nirguna and Saguna Brahmin which is what Shankara believed. To say he was a vishnu Bhakti only wholly misses the point. He may have written some works on Sriman Narayan but he was a firm believer in nirguna Brahman. To think otherwise is wrong interpretation of Shankara works. To say otherwise means to disagree with the shankar acharyas of the mathams which is silly because they are the direct disciples of Shankara philosophy not new age nonsense or personal interpretation of scriptures. Feel free to disagree.

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