Madhu and Kaitabha: mankind possessed by shadows

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Vishnu Vanquishing the Demons Madhu and Kaitabha, Folio from a Devimahatmya (Glory of the Goddess), India, Madhya Pradesh, Chatarpur, circa 1775 Opaque watercolor and gold on paper. LA county Museum. US Public Domain via Wikimedia

In the in the image above, we see a watercolor paining of Purusha (as Vishnu) Vanquishing the Demons Madhu and Kaitabha.

This is based on an ancient story from the Bhagavata Purana. In the story, the demons Madhu and Kaitabha steal the Vedas and hide them in the nether regions. The Vedas are said to be the eyes of Brahma, without them he is blind. So, Brahma appeals to the supreme Lord (as Purusha) who resides in Yogic meditation. Purusha awakens from his meditation and becomes Hayagriva, the horse headed God. He battles the demons, kills them, and restores the Vedas to Brahma.

This cosmic story is not only telling us something about the nature of the cosmos, but something about the psycho-dynamics of enlightenment. In particular, it reveals something about what Carl Jung called the shadow archetype. Jung notes that ‘a man possessed by his shadow is always standing in his own light’ (CW 9i). This is true on a true on a cosmic level as well. Our pesky little demons, ‘possessed by the shadow’ are always standing in the light, stealing the light, veiling the light of the Self.

The demons Madhu and Kaitabha act-out their primordial part in the psycho-dynamics of enlightenment. In the story, the Vedas are the source of knowledge, most specifically Self-knowledge. The shadowy demons steal the source of knowledge and enlightenment, hiding knowledge in darkness and shadows. In some permutations of the story their acts bring darkness and ignorance to mankind.[2]

In the Śrīmad Bhagavad, it is said that Madhu and Kaitabha represent the modes of passion and ignorance. In the above story, we learn that the demons are the form or image of rajas and tamas. Rajas is passion, as the dynamic principle or the projection making factor. Tamas is ignorance, as the darkness which veils the eternal truth. These two poles of being form core psycho-dynamics of enlightenment.

Shadows, demons and darkness represents the passions and ignorance which hide the eternal truth (Vedas) of the supreme Self (Purusha). Jung may have understood this when he called the shadow the “projection making factor”. He says:

“The projection-making factor (the Shadow) then has a free hand and can realize its object–if it has one–or bring about some other situation characteristic of its power.”

We might add that there are two core elements to the shadow in Hindu Philosophy. Rajas, as the projection making factor, creates the illusions and delusions of the cosmos through shadow play. Tamas, then veils the Self from our view so that we lose contact with our eternal nature.

Jung was clear as to Rajas. His work focuses quite a bit on the projection making factor. But did he understand Tamas? Or was he trapped or tricked by Tamas? To my knowledge he never fully unveiled the Self.  He was never willing to speak or think from the place of the eternal truth of the Self. He never grounded in the supreme Self, or in the truth of enlightenment. It was as if we was always looking at it from a distance, like a demi-God calling up Brahman for assistance. Nonetheless, he offers an investigation into the archetypes as few in Western history have. I give thanks to Jung for that gift. Yet, if we seek the eternal truths of enlightenment, we must go straight to the source: the supreme Self. We must listen to the stories of the Self, and distill truths from the place of the Self.

What follows is the story of Madhu and Kaitabha as told in the Bhagavata Purana, for the pleasure of the Self….

The story begins as Brahma sings a hymns in honor of Purusha (as Narayana, Vishnu, Hari):

“I bow to thee, O heart of Brahman. I bow to thee that hast been born before me. Thou art the origin of the universe. Thou art the foremost of all abodes. Thou, O puissant one, art the ocean of Yoga with all its branches. Thou art the Creator of both what is Manifest and what is Unmanifest. Thou treadest along the path whose auspiciousness is of inconceivable extent. Thou art the consumer of the universe. Thou art the Antaralock (Inner Soul) of all creatures. Thou art without any origin. Thou art the refuge of the universe. Thou art self-born.”

Brahma prays to Purusha, saying that the Vedas have been stolen. He explains that the Vedas are his eyes and without them he is blind. Brahma says:

“The Vedas are my eyes. Hence, I transcend Time itself. Those Vedas, which constitute my eyes, have been taken away from me. I have, therefore, become blind. Do Thou awake from this Yoga-sleep. Give me back my eyes.”

Hearing the prayers of Brahma, Purusha awakens from his deep meditation:

The illustrious Purusha, with face turned towards every side, then shook off his slumber, resolved to recover the Vedas (from the Daityas [Asuras or demons] that had forcibly snatched them away)

Purusha takes on the form of Hayagriva, as the horse headed God:

Applying his Yoga-puissance, he assumed a second form. His body, equipt with an excellent nose, became as bright as the Moon. He assumed an equine head of great effulgence, which was the abode of the Vedas. The firmament, with all its luminaries and constellations, became the crown of his head. His locks of hair were long and flowing, and had the splendour of the rays of the Sun. The regions above and below became his two ears. The Earth became his forehead. The two rivers Ganga and Saraswati became his two hips. The two oceans became his two eye-brows. The Sun and the Moon became his two eyes. The twilight became his nose. The syllable Om became his memory and intelligence. The lightning became his tongue. The Soma-drinking Pitris became, it is said, his teeth. The two regions of felicity, viz., Goloka and Brahmaloka, became his upper and lower lips. The terrible night that succeeds universal destruction, and that transcends the three attributes, became his neck.

Having assumed the form of Hayagriva, he proceeds to the nether regions, sets himself to high Yoga, and utters the Vedic Mantras. Endued with the properties of the elements, his great Mantras fill the nether regions from end to end:

Having assumed this form endued with the equine head and having diverse things for its diverse limbs, the Lord of the universe disappeared then and there, and proceeded to the nether regions. Having reached those regions, he set himself to high Yoga. Adopting a voice regulated by the rules of the science called Siksha, he began to utter loudly Vedic Mantras. His pronunciation was distinct and reverberated through the air, and was sweet in every respect. The sound of his voice filled the nether region from end to end. Endued with the properties of all the elements, it was productive of great benefits.

The Asuras, hearing mantras, throw down the Vedas into the nether regions and run toward the sound:

The two Asuras, making an appointment with the Vedas in respect of the time when they would come back to take them up again, threw them down in the nether region, and ran towards the spot whence those sounds appeared to come.

Purusha, as Hayagriva, retrieves the Vedas from the nether regions:

Meanwhile, O king, the Supreme Lord with the equine head, otherwise called Hari, who was himself in the nether region, took up all the Vedas. Returning to where Brahma was staying, he gave the Vedas unto him. Having restored the Vedas unto Brahma, the Supreme Lord once more returned to his own nature.

The two demons, Madhu and Kaitabha, realize the Vedas are no longer in the nether region. The leave the nether region and go to where Purusha resides in Yogic meditation:

The two Danavas Madhu and Kaitabha, not finding the person from whom those sounds proceeded, quickly came back to that spot. They cast their eyes around but beheld that the spot on which they had thrown the Vedas was empty. Those two foremost of mighty Beings, adopting great speed of motion, rose from the nether region. Returning to where the primeval Lotus was that had given them birth, they saw the puissant Being, the original Creator, staying in the form of Aniruddha of fair complexion and endued with a splendour resembling that of the Moon. Of immeasurable prowess, he was under the influence of Yoga-sleep, his body stretched on the waters and occupying a space as vast as itself.

There the demons see the Supreme Lord mediating on the hood of a snake. They wonder, Who is he? And why he lay on the head of a snake? With such thoughts they awaken the Supreme Self from slumber:

Possessed of great effulgence and endued with the attribute of stainless Sattwa, the body of the Supreme Lord lay on the excellent hood of a snake that seemed to emit flames of fire for the resplendence attaching to it. Beholding the Lord thus lying, the two foremost of Danavas roared out a loud laugh. Endued with the attributes of Rajas and Tamas, they said.–‘This is that Being of white complexion. He is now lying asleep. Without doubt, this one has brought the Vedas away from the nether region. Whose is he? Whose is he? Who is he? Why is he thus asleep on the hood of a snake: Uttering these words, the two Danavas awakened Hari from his Yoga-slumber.

Purusha, as Hari,  realizes that the demons wish to do battle with him. And thus decides to gratify their desire:

The foremost of Beings, (viz., Narayana), thus awakened, understood that the two Danavas intended to have an encounter with him in battle. Beholding the two foremost of Asuras prepared to do battle with him, he also set his mind to gratify that desire of theirs.

Purusha, as Hari, battles with the Asuras, who are the embodiment of the Rajas and Tamas. He slays the demons:

Thereupon an encounter took place between those two on one side and Narayana on the other. The Asuras Madhu and Kaitabha were embodiments of the attributes of Rajas and Tamas. Narayana slew them both for gratifying Brahma. He thence came to be called by the name of Madhusudana (slayer of Madhu).

Purusha, as Hari, restores the Vedas to Brahma. And together, they creates the worlds:

Having compassed the destruction of the two Asuras and restored the Vedas to Brahma, the Supreme Being dispelled the grief of Brahma. Aided then by Hari and assisted by the Vedas, Brahma created all the worlds with their mobile and immobile creatures. After this, Hari, granting unto the Grandsire intelligence of the foremost order relating to the Creation, disappeared there and then for going to the place he had come from. It was thus that Narayana, having assumed form equipt with the horse-head, slew the two Danavas Madhu and Kaitabha (and disappeared from the sight of Brahma). Once more, however, he assumed the same form for the sake of causing the religion of Pravritti to flow in the universe.’ Thus did the blessed Hari assume in days of old that grand form having the equine head. [1]



  1. Book of Vishnu  By Nanditha Kirshna
  3. The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.9 Part 1)