I know that Shiva, Durga, Vishnu, Surya and Ganesha are counted as manifestations of Nirguna brahman. Or in other way when nirguna brahman is seen through lens of maya, it is seen in 5 different ways. What I fail to make sense of is how come Vishnu is there in the list, but his wife is missing. Similarly, how same saguna brahman Shiva, Durga, Ganesha are related as husband , wife, son and then instead of another son Karthikeya we have Surya as fifth. I am also not able to make sense of the number 5 and one family having 3 saguna brahman. The thing is since all are manifestations of Nirguna brahman, there should be no hierarchy between each of them.

I am not interested in Adi Shankaracharya's views because I already asked a similar question before. There may be different advaitic sects each with their own variations. This question is for those who believe nirguna brahman & saguna brahman seen in 5 ways depending on the person's nature.

Can some explain logically how it is possible?

  • 5 = pancha bootha... Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 5:37
  • @AkshayS yes please write answer. I am OK with logical answers also.
    – user16895
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 5:40
  • I am finding reference with respect to your particular question!! So takes time! Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 5:41
  • 2
    Indra is only nirguna brahma. Though he failed to prove that.
    – TheLittleNaruto
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 6:22
  • Dear Uday Krishna, Aditya hrudayam is an interpolation in the Valmiki Ramayana. It is not present in the Baroda critical edition of Ramayana.
    – user16581
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 8:33

5 Answers 5


Since this question is about nirguNa brahman, I will answer this from the perspective of advaita. There is nothing special about the number five. Sri Shankara says in his Brahmasutra bhashya, that the supreme Lord can assume any form to bless his devotees. (BSB 1.1.20, see the quote below). There is no evidence from Sri Shankara's authentic works that he thinks there are only five forms of brahman.


With a beard bright as gold,' &c., cannot refer to the highest Lord, we reply that the highest Lord also may, when he pleases, assume a bodily shape formed of Mâyâ, in order to gratify thereby his devout worshippers. Thus Smriti also says, 'That thou seest me, O Nârada, is the Mâyâ emitted by me; do not then look on me as endowed with the qualities of all beings.'

Incidentally, the smriti in the above quote is Mahabharata, where Lord Narayana shows his cosmic form (vishwa roopa) to Narada.

  • I think this 5 forms belief comes from the link people gave to him on Panchayatana puja.
    – Ambi
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 6:36
  • 2
    Dear Ambi, I have not come across any place in Sri Shankara bhashyas where he recommends panchayatana puja.
    – user16581
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 6:39
  • I agree. That's why I said that it was people who linked it to him. In fact, I have actually asked a question on that same topic and answered it as well. hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/31724/16773. You can take a look if interested. I am still studying more stuff on that topic.
    – Ambi
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 6:43
  • You can reply to a specific user by writing @ before username. Like @LazyLubber :-)
    – user6981
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 9:48

According to Swami Nischalananda Saraswati, the Present Shankacharya of Puri, Nirguna Brahman is manifested in five forms to perform five basic activities:

  1. He creates as Hiranyagarva or Surya,

  2. Preserves as Vishnu,

  3. Destroys as Shiva,

  4. Graces or makes anugraha as Ganesha and

  5. Punishes or makes nigraha as Shakti.

Please see the video इष्टदेवको कैसे पहचाने (Ishtadev ko kaise pahechhane) on youtube published by the Govardhan Math.

I found this sound quite reasonable. But please remember that each form is the Saguna Brahman Himself or Herself and so having ALL the powers to protect His or Her devotees and fulfill all the desires of him or her and giving Mukti.

According to the Mantrayogasamhita, there are five basic elements. Shiva is the Adhiswara of Kshititatwa, Ganesha of Jalatattwa, Shakti of Tejastattwa, Surya of Maruttattwa and Vishnu of Vyomatattwa.(Deekshasaara, Amita, published by the Mahamilan Math).

Regarding your question on the relationships among the deities as found in the Puranas, Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath provides the answer in M-karbaba(Omkarnath Rachanavali, vol 7, page 70). He says, to understand the Puranas, we have to understand three types of languages: Laukiki Bhasa (Worldly language),Kavyiki Bhasha (Poetic Language) and Samadhi Bhasha (Spiritual Language). Its only in the Samadhi language, the spiritual meanings are expressed whichnare understood by the yogis only. So to the yogis alone, different tattwas of the Same God and the real meanings of the Sastras are clear.

  • Dear Partha, Brahma is usually termed as creator.
    – user16581
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 8:36
  • @LazyLubberni have mentioned nothing on my known.And Brahma and Hiranyagarva are same from the viewpoints of vedanta so far as i know,
    – user17294
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 8:45
  • Thats fine. Brahma is same as hiranyagarbha. But how did he become surya?
    – user16581
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 8:46
  • @LazyLubber The symbol of creation is Surya. The Sunnwe see is a material form of that spiritual entity so far as i know.
    – user17294
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 8:48
  • @LazyLubber and i think Shankaracharyya has the authority to say regarding these.
    – user17294
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 8:49

It is called as Panchayatana puja, established by Adi Shankaracharya.

It was believed that at the time of Adi Shankaracharya India is divided in multiple Saguna Puja (with different deities) was happening and most energy was misspent in arguing between them about whcih is true / greater /....

So Adi Shankaracharya had established this Panchayatana Puja to Get all closer and tried to stop the fights/arguments majorly between Shaiv (who believes that Shiv is greater) and Vaishnav (who believes that Vishnu is greater). We can see its success today as in India we don't see any much fights between Shaiv and Vaishnav in last many years (I may say centuries). At that time there is a big part who believes in different Mataji, Ganesh and Natural resources like sun, rivers, mountains, etc. So Adi Shankaracharya had established a Panchayatan Puja with taking common deities and unite all into Sanatan Dharma. He had taken a Shiv, Vishnu, Ganesh to unite Shaiv & Vaishnav ; taken a Durga as a symbol of all Mataji ; taken a Surya as a symbol of all natural resources. And thus unite all different people into Sanatan Dharma so that people can think forward than just fighting between different deities. Adi Shankaracharya had also told that Saguna Upasana is the first step for Nirguna Upasana so this is important for achieving the height in Adhyatma.

This is just my thoughts.. Forgive if anything wrong and appreciate if you can guide how to correct.. Thanks.

  • the problem of your interpretation is : there are matrikas mentioned by sankaracharyya whom He mentioned inferior to Saguna Brahma.So all were not included in devi.similarly Vinayaka was considered inferior but Ganesha was treated as one of Panchadevatas.
    – user17294
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 17:32
  • so i think His understanding was different from what u mean
    – user17294
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 17:33

In Advaita, as taught by Shankaracharya and handed down in the tradition, there is no strict prescription of such and such entity alone should be the saguṇa Brahman. The purpose of saguṇa Brahman is purely to enable the aspirant of the Vedāntic realization of the Nirguṇa Brahman to practice the sādhana of preparing the mind to receive that liberating knowledge. Thus, the concept of saguṇa Brahman is that which is not a natural ontological reality in Vedanta but a devised method which is used for the purpose it is intended and left behind subsequently. This ‘leaving behind’ is not any deliberate act on the part of the aspirant but a natural culmination of the attainment of the realization of the Nirguṇa Brahman as the only secondless Truth.

In the Panchadaśi of Swami Vidyāraṇya, we have, in the 9th chapter this set of verses:

पुनःपुनर्विचारोऽपि त्रिविधप्रतिबन्धतः ।

न वेत्ति तत्त्वमित्येतद्वार्तिके सम्यगीरितम् ॥ ३८॥

In spite of repeated enquiry a man does not realize the truth because of three kinds of impediments. This has been clearly pointed out in his Vārtika by Āchārya Sureśvara.

कुतस्तज्ज्ञानमिति चेत्तद्धि बन्धपरिक्षयात् ।

असावपि च भूतो वा भावी वा वर्तते तथा ॥ ३९॥

If you ask why the realization (which did not arise before) comes now, we shall reply that knowledge comes only with the total removal of impediments which may be past, present or future.

अधीतवेदवेदार्थोऽप्यत एव न मुच्यते ।

हिरण्यनिधिदृष्टान्तादिदमेव हि दर्शितम् ॥ ४०॥

Therefore even by studying the Veda and its meaning a man is not released. This has been shown in the example of hidden gold.

अतीतेनापि महिषीस्नेहेन प्रतिबन्धतः ।

भिक्षुस्तत्त्वं न वेदेति गाथा लोके प्रगीयते ॥ ४१॥

There is the popular song saying that a monk could not realize the truth, the impediment being his past attachment to a she-buffalo.

अनुसृत्य गुरुः स्नेहं महिष्यां तत्त्वमुक्तवान् ।

ततो यथावद्वेदैष प्रतिबन्धस्य सङ्क्षयात् ॥ ४२॥

His teacher instructed him of Brahman knowing his attachment to it (by telling him that buffalo is the upādhi of Brahman). When the impediment was removed, the monk realized the truth properly.

The commentator, Sri Rāmakṛṣṇa clarifies on the ‘popular saying’: A sannyāsin, in his householder life, had developed a deep attachment to a buffalo. Even after coming to be instructed of the Vedānta, he remained inattentive to the lessons. His preceptor noticed this and questioned him as to what was distracting his attention. On hearing about the disciple-monk’s buffalo-affinity, the Āchārya instructed him the highest Brahman with the buffalo-upādhi. In due course the monk became free of the past impediment, the buffalo-attachment, and realized Brahman as taught by the Āchārya and became enlightened.

Shankara has said in the Brahmasūtra bhāṣya:

स्यात्परमेश्वरस्यापि इच्छावशात् मायामयं रूपं साधकानुग्रहार्थम् । (1.1.vii.20)

(Īśhwara, out of compassion, takes on, by His Maya, a form to grace the spiritual aspirant.)

We can see from the above quotes that the buffalo-form was taken upon by Īśwara to bless that particular aspirant.

Also in the Kenopanishad Chapter 1 verse 5 (Pada Bhashya) Shankara comments as follows “तत्तस्मादन्य उपास्यो विष्णुरीश्वर इन्द्रः प्राणो वा ब्रह्म भवितुमर्हति”

Meaning: Hence the other is worshiped like Vishnu, Ishwara, Indra, or Prana can be called Brahman.

Here Ishwara means Shiva, so it is obvious that Adi Shankara places Vishnu, Shiva and even Indra at the same level at the level of Apara or Sagunabrahman.

One can add to this, the famous verse of Sureśwara in the Vārtika:

यया यया भवेत् पुंसां व्युत्पत्तिः प्रत्यगात्मनि । सा सैव प्रक्रियेह स्यात् साध्वी सा चानवस्थिता ॥

Since the aspirants’ make-up can be varied, whichever method that suits one is good enough. Ultimately, one has to come to the Goal. Such means are infinite. The means do not matter at that stage.

Hence, As per Advaita there is no compulsion that Saguna brahman is restricted to only 5.


Everything is manifestation of Nirguna Brahman. Different manifestations have different energy.

Universe and gods and goddesses are manifestations of Brahman

There are two states of this Brahman; one with, and one without shape; one perishable, and one imperishable; which are inherent in all beings. The imperishable is the supreme being; the perishable is all the world. The blaze of fire burning on one spot diffuses light and heat around; so the world is nothing more than the manifested energy of the supreme Brahman: and inasmuch, Maitreya, as the light and heat are stronger or feebler as we are near to the fire, or far off from it, so the energy of the supreme is more or less intense in the beings that are less or more remote from him. Brahma, Vishńu, and Śiva are the most powerful energies of god; next to them are the inferior deities, then the attendant spirits, then men, then animals, birds, insects, vegetables; each becoming more and more feeble as they are farther from their primitive source. In this way, illustrious Brahman, this whole world, although in essence imperishable and eternal, appears and disappears, as if it was subject to birth and death.

The supreme condition of Brahman, which is meditated by the Yogis in the commencement of their abstraction, as invested with form, is Vishńu, composed of all the divine energies, and the essence of Brahma, with whom the mystic union that is sought, and which is accompanied by suitable elements, is effected 7 by the devotee whose whole mind is addressed to that object. This Hari, who is the most immediate of all the energies of Brahma, is his embodied shape, composed entirely of his essence; and in him therefore is the whole world interwoven; and from him, and in him, is the universe; and he, the supreme lord of all, comprising all that is perishable and imperishable, bears upon him all material and spiritual existence, identified in nature with his ornaments and weapons.

Vishnu Purana I.22.55-65

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