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Lots of questions can be spawned from this 'never before read' Mahãbhãrata story, but above is the major one.
Until now my perception was that, Nãrãyana was an equivalent God to Shiva and does not require austerities to get power even while in human form, but this story debunks it.

Preface

After unjust killing of Drona, his son Ashwathama in rage invokes various celestial weapons to destroy Pãndava army. Final is Agneyastra. Though it kills 1 Akshouhini, it couldn't even touch Arjun & Keshava. Frustrated with that he leaves the battlefield and goes to Vyãsa for its complete answer. He learns that, he himself was part form of Rudra who himself given a boon to Nãrãyana (Keshava & hence Arjuna) to have ability to win over him during war.

Relevant Quote

Laying aside his bow, then, the son of Drona speedily alighted from his car, and saying, 'O fie, fie! Every thing is untrue,' he ran away from the fight. On his way he met Vyasa, ...
The son of Drona with voice choked in grief, and like one exceedingly cheerless, saluted him and said, "O sire, O sire, is this an illusion ... Why, indeed, hath my weapon become fruitless? What breach (has there been in the method of invocation)? Or, is it something abnormal, or, is it a victory over Nature (achieved by the two Krishnas) since they are yet alive?" ...
Vyãsa said, "... He that is called Narayana is older than the oldest ones. For accomplishing some purpose, that creator of the universe took his birth as the son of Dharma. On the mountain of Himavat he underwent the severest ascetic austerities. ... he emaciated himself there for sixty-six thousand years, subsisting all the while upon air alone. Once more undergoing severe austerities of another kind for twice that period, he filled the space between earth and heaven with his energy. When by those austerities, O sire, he became like Brahma he then beheld the Master, Origin, and Guardian of the Universe, the Lord of all the gods, the Supreme Deity, who is exceedingly difficult of being gazed at, who is minuter than the minutest and larger than, the largest, who is called Rudra
{(skipping) desription of Shankar}
Having saluted Rudra, that destroyer of the Asura Andhaka, the lotus eyed Narayana, with emotion filling his heart, began to praise the Three-eyed one
{(skipping) similar words for Rudra resembling the description of Krishna himself from Gita}
I am thy devoted adorer,--be graceful unto me. Do not injure me, by causing evil thoughts to penetrate my heart. ... Adored by me, grant me the boons I desire but which are difficult of acquisition. Do not hide thyself in thy illusion.
Vyasa continued, 'The blue-throated God, of inconceivable soul, that wielder of Pinaka, that divine Lord ever praised by the Rishis, then gave boons unto Vasudeva who deserved them all. The great God said, 'O NarayAna with my grace, amongst men, gods, and Gandharvas, thou shalt be of immeasurable might and soul. Neither gods, nor Asuras, nor great Uragas, nor Pisachas, nor Gandharvas, nor men, nor Rakshasas, nor birds, nor Nagas, nor any creatures in the Universe, shall ever be able to bear thy prowess. No one amongst even the celestials shall be able to vanquish thee in battle. Through my grace, none shall ever be able to cause thee pain by the weapon of thunderbolt or with any object that is wet or dry, or with any mobile or immobile thing. Thou shalt be superior to myself if thou ever goest to battle against me.' Thus were these boons acquired by Sauri in days of yore. Even that God now walketh the earth (as Vasudeva), beguiling the universe by his illusion.* From Narayana's asceticism was born a great Muni of the name of Nara, equal to Narayana himself. Know that Arjuna is none else than that Nara. Those two Rishis, said to be older than the oldest gods, take their births in every Yuga for serving the purposes of the world. Thyself also, O thou of great heart, hast been born as a portion of Rudra ..."

This article suggests that the capabilities of Krishna were due to those austerity worth thousands of years towards Rudra/Shiva.

Questions:

  • Why in this story, Vishnu is depicted as "that (one of the) God(s)" rather than equivalent to Shiva if not more?

  • If Vishnu is supreme on his own rights then why is there a need of austerity to get supreme powers (note that this particular wasn't the normal austerity, but rather once and for all)?

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    Advaita perspective - Here is another question: If Sri Krishna is God, why didn't He just stop Kauravas in the first place before the war begun. If Lord Shiva is God then why did He grant boon to Ravana. If Lord Rama was God then why did He go after the deer? Because That's God's Leela. He wants to enact certain dramas as part of the Game. There is no difference between Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. Both are One and the same. But yet in some texts, Lord Vishnu worships Lord Shiva. In other texts Lord Shiva worships Lord Vishnu. But in reality they are one !! – Sai May 24 '15 at 5:27
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    @iammilind- This is already amswered in one of the previous quetions "Why Shiva does not worship anybody where as Vishnu worships him in all incarnations?" In short why Siva asked a boon to be worshipped by Vishnu. It is provided in padmA purana, varaha purana and kurma purana where Siva worships Vishnu and gets this boon – user808 May 24 '15 at 7:35
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    @iammilind- Check out the link narayanastra.blogspot.in/p/blog-page_17.html?m=0 This should clarify most of your doubts on this question. – user808 May 24 '15 at 12:05
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    @Krishna, the post is useful in its own right but also depicts Vishnu vs Shankar symptoms. Hope to see some more neutral sources. – iammilind May 24 '15 at 12:58
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    @Krishna, I am not biased being a Vaishnav myself. Ideally I should not have to defend such things; but doing so, to counter your allegations. However the link you shared doesn't seem neutral, neither from name nor from contents. If your comments are based on that then beware, because it shows hostility towards Siva. – iammilind May 25 '15 at 5:02
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It's because Narayana is the soul of Rudra or one may also call Rudra is the soul of Narayana. Both are true. It is explained by Krishna himself in this chapter of Shanti Parva (in the Nãrãyaniya section):

He is the destroyer of Daksha's sacrifice and the tearer of Bhaga's eyes. O son of Pandu, Rudra should be known to have always Narayana for his Soul. If that deity of deities, viz., Maheswara, be worshipped, then O Partha, is the puissant Narayana also worshipped. I am the Soul, O son of Pandu, of all the worlds, of all the universe. Rudra, again, is my Soul. It is for this that I always adore him. If I do not adore the auspicious and boon-giving Ishana (Shiva) nobody would then adore my own self. The ordinances I set are followed by all the worlds. Those ordinances should always be adored, and it is, therefore, that I adore them. He who knows Rudra knows myself, and he who knows myself knows Rudra. He who follows Rudra follows me, Rudra is Narayana. Both are one; and one is displayed in two different forms. Rudra and Narayana, forming one person, pervade all displayed things and cause them to act. No one else than Rudra is competent to grant me a boon. O son of Pandu. Having settled this in my mind, I adored in days of yore the ancient and puissant Rudra, for obtaining the boon of a son. In adoring Rudra thus I adored my own self. Vishnu never bows his head unto any deity except his own self. It is for this reason that I adore Rudra.

I think the above passage told by Krishna clears all.

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    Vishnu never bows his head unto any deity except his own self. It is for this reason that I adore Rudra. This explicitly proves that Vishnu=Rudra..So the supremacy fights involving atleast these two deities must be put an end..haha.. – Rickross Jan 3 '17 at 5:55
  • Beyond Maya Tattva, the ultimate reality Shiva Bhattaraka has Mantra bodies consisting of 5 mantras. Among these 5, the name of two are - Aghora & Vamadeva. When these mantra bodies reflect on Maya Tattva, takes form of Rudra & Vishnu respectively. – Mr. Sigma. Aug 21 '17 at 19:04
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This is a fascinating story. You can't give something you don't have and you don't give someone something he already has. This story establishes that Narayana wasn't as powerful as Siva until he performed this tapas. Siva's boon is consistent with his agreeing not to use his full powers in a conflict with Narayana. This is amply illustrated in the Banasura episode - Siva Purana (which generously gives the "victory" to Krishna ) is almost identical with the version in the vishnu purana (for some reason the version in Harivamsa is lopsidedly, embarrassingly over-the-top) except that krishna's victory was given to him as a boon.

http://creative.sulekha.com/remarkable-consistency-between-the-vishnu-and-shiva-puranas_631470_blog

vishnu's defeat in the Daksha yagna must have happened before Siva gave him this boon.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    Blogs are not considered reliable source, you should cite some authentic sources preferably scriptures. – Pandya Dec 10 '17 at 6:03

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