This excerpt from the Vidyeshwara Samhita of the Shiva Purana relates a famous story involving a contest between Brahma and Vishnu. (To read the whole Shiva Purana, see my answer here.) In this account, Brahma and Vishnu argue about who is superior until this argument turns into a battle. To stop the conflict, Shiva turns into a pillar of fire that seems to go forever in both directions. Brahma turns into a swan to go to the top, and Vishnu turns into a boar to go to the bottom. Brahma lies that he went to the top, presenting a Ketaki flower that arose from the middle of the pillar and claiming it's from the top. Vishnu concedes defeat, but then Shiva appears, Vishnu touches Shiva's feet, and as a result Shiva declares Vishnu the winner. Shiva then creates the demon Kala Bhairava to cut off Brahma's fifth head, but Vishnu persuades Shiva to take mercy on Brahma, so Shiva instead just curses Brahma that he can't be worshiped in temples.

Now as I discuss in this answer, there's some reason to believe the particular version of the story found in the Shiva Purana is a later interpolation. (For instance, the more commonly attested reason for why Brahma can't be worshipped is a curse by the sage Brighu, not Shiva.) But in any case, the contest between Brahma and Vishnu is believed to have taken place at the Arunachala hill in Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. A.R. Natarajan's book about this hill is called "Arunachala: From Rigveda to Ramana Maharshi", and in his introduction he says this to justify the "From Rigveda" part:

Again in Rigveda ‘Brahmana’ there is reference to a dispute between the Creator Brahma and Preserver Vishnu as to which of them was superior. Lord Siva appeared before them as a effulgence, a column of light or jyotisthambha which is the symbol or linga of Siva. Later in response to their prayer he took the form of Arunachala.

My question is, where in the Rig Veda Brahmanas is this story of the contest? For those who don't know, each of the four Vedas is divided into four parts: Samhitas, the core part of the Vedas consisting of mantras heard by sages directly from the gods; Brahmanas, or commentaries on the Samhitas which give stories and tell how to do common rituals; Aranyakas, which tell how to do esoteric rituals; and Upanishads, which clarify the philosophical teachings of the Vedas.

The Rig Veda has two Brahmanas, the Kaushitaki Brahmana and the Aitareya Brahmana (they're from two different Rig Veda Shakhas or recensions). You can read both of them here; at first glance I don't see the story in either one of these texts. So is A.R. Natarajan mistaken in his claim that the story goes back to the Brahmanas of the Rig Veda?

  • 1
    the reasons given for the story being an interpolations are absurd.
    – S K
    Dec 8, 2017 at 13:10

1 Answer 1


The incident involving Shiva evolving as a fire is related to Arunachala (Tiruvannamalai). It is not found in Rig Veda. It is found in the Samhita of the Skanda Purana

Original Sanskrit text


Glory of Arunachala

Rudra (Sankara) Samhita alone has thirty thousand verses. The Maheswara Khanda is one of the twelve Khandas (divisions) of this Samhita. The third Kaanda (Part) of this Maheswara Khanda treats of Arunachala Mahima.

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