Puranas in Indian Samskriti – Part 2

Puranas in Indian Samskriti – Part 2

In a previous article titled “Puranas In Indian Samskriti: Part 1” (Sanskriti, March 1, 2015), I dealt with many aspects of Puranas such as their origin, scope and definition; dates of their compositions and characteristics; and their importance to Hindu religious culture. A list of 18 Puranas was given and it was observed   that today’s Hinduism is the Hinduism of the Puranas. This mythical structuring of Hindu religion has, over a long period of time, led to deification of certain deities and individuals resulting in sectarianism and a culture of hero-worship among the followers of Hindu faith (Vaishnavite or Saivite). In my view, the concept of celebrity has come from these Puranic belief systems.

Having said so, I now want to present a brief summary of the essential contents of the Puranas. But Puranas being vast (four times the size of Mahabharata) and there being a strong and large overlap of matter among the Puranas, I shall limit myself to summarizing only three of them, namely: the Matsya, the Markandeya and the Vishnu Puranas. Padma Purana categorizes Matsya as a Tamasa Purana (Purana of darkness or ignorance), Markandeya a Rajasa (Purana of passion) and Vishnu a Sattvika (Purana of goodness and purity). The total number of shlokas or couplets in these three Puranas is 46,000.

However, before we go to the text proper, I want to tell the readers of this paper that the setting or background against which these Puranas were recited or narrated was always the same. The scene was in a forest by the name Naimisharanya where a gathering of sages used to take place to conduct yajnas or sacrifices. Once the Yajna was completed, the assembled sages would entreat the suta Romaharshana or Lomaharshana to narrate one particular Purana.


MatsyaThis Purana is considered to be one of the oldest and most holy among the eighteen Puranas. It is dated c.250-500 CE. Matsya Purana (MP in short) is so named because it was first recited by Vishnu Himself in his ‘fish’ avatar (incarnation) in which He saved the seeds of all lives and the life of a king named Manu, in an ark, from the waters of the great flood (Mahapralaya). The ark was either built by the gods or was built by Manu himself atop the Malaya Mountains. Whilst the ark floated fastened to the horn of the fish (Vishnu), Manu entered into conversation with Him, and his questions and the replies of Vishnu, form the main substance of this miscellaneous compilation. MP contains 14000 shlokas and has the elements of a genuine Purana in it. According to MP, the 18 Puranas totalling 400,000 shlokas are for human consumption. The Puranas that gods read, total number of shlokas is one billion. MP says that there are 12 avatars (chapter 47) and the Hayagriva story of Vishnu precedes Matsya (chapter 53).

The first subject dealt with is the creation. In the beginning, there was only darkness. Vishnu removed the darkness and expanded it into three parts: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Water was the first object and in this water appeared a golden (hiranya) egg (anda). Heaven, earth, land, ocean and mountains manifested. The sun Aditya, also known as Martanda, was born. Svayambhuva Manu, Shatarupa, Daksha and his wife Panchajani  (Prasuti, Vairini) are born. The creation story continues till the 49 Maruts (Marut comes from the word ‘Ma rud’ meaning don’t cry) are born. The 14 Manvantaras are described (We are currently in the seventh manvantara.) and the names of 14 Manus given. Each Manvantara is ruled over by a Manu. Akalpa has 14 manvantaras. One day of Brahma is a kalpa. The gods, the 7 great sages (saptarshis) and Indra change from one manvantara to another.

At the end of every kalpa, universe is destroyed and then created afresh. The first Manu was Vaivashwata and the gods were yamas. The final Manu would be Vishvakasena. The controversial death of Vena, the birth of a fully-grown Prithu from the right hand of Vena’s kneaded dead body and Prithu’s success in ensuring food-grains for his subjects are described next. This is followed by a history of the Solar Line starting with Aditi, sage Kashyapa and their son, the sun-god Vivasvana or Surya. There are some details of constructions of the weapons of gods. Vaivashwata Manu was the eldest son of Surya and Samjna. The solar line owes its origin to Ikshvaku, the second son of Vaivashwata Manu. Ila was the eldest son of Vaivashwata Manu and lived as a man and a woman in alternate months.

As a woman, Ila was known as Ila. But as a man, he was known as Sudyumna. Then is narrated the story of Daksha and Sati. Daksha was the son of Prachetas and Marisha. Sati, before immolating herself, tells her 108 names and the names of the 108 tirthas where she is known by those 108 names. Sati is reborn as Uma or Parvati, daughter of Menaka and Himalaya. The Purana now devotes several sections toshradha (funeral) ceremony. During the course of narration of the story of Koushika and his 7 sons, we learn about a man named Brahmadatta who was gifted with the ability to understand the languages of all living beings.  

The Purana continues giving a catalogue of the major tirthas. Lomaharshana narrates that the moon-god Chandra was born from energy that was released from Atri’s tapasya (penance). Budha was born as a son to Chandra and Tara, the latter being Brihaspati’s wife. Budha was an expert in handling elephants. Names of two divine weapons brahmasirsha and somastra are mentioned. Budha married Ila and a son was born. His name was Pururava. Urvasi was cursed to live on earth as Pururava’s wife. This Pururava was the ancestor of the Lunar Line. Then came king Nahusha and his son Yayati. Yayati’s youngest son Puru exchanged his youth for the untimely old age of his father Yayati. Puru inherited the kingdom. Puru’s descendants are called the Pauravas. In this line was born Bharata after whom our land is named Bharata Varsha. There is a long narration of incidents relating to Yayati, Puru, Kacha (Brihaspati’s son), Devayani, Sharmishttha and Kacha’s acquisition of MritaSanjivani vidya from Shukracharya.  Vashishttha’s curse to Kartaveerya, description of Andhaka race and the story of Shyamantaka gem are narrated. The MP now describes Yadu’s descendants: Turvasu, Druhya, Anu and Puru.

Romaharshana gives a list of the 18 Puranas/Mahapuranas. This list excludes Shiva Purana and includes Vayu in its place. The narrator reveals that initially there was only one Purana which was later divided into 18 Puranas by Veda Vyasa.  Details of various vratas are enumerated and glories of the sacred city of Prayaga are given. Greatness of fasting like Ananta Tritiya is praised. Geographical and astronomical details are given. MP talks about a Danava named Maya who was architect for the demons like Vishwakarma was for the gods. Maya built the fort Tripura. During a battle between the gods versus the demons led by Tripurasura, Shiva burnt Tripura by a single flaming arrow.

Tripurasura perished along with all the demons. Only Maya survived because of his extreme devotion to Shiva. The section on Measurement of Time is same as that in Shiva Purana. Smallest unit of time is a nimesha which is the time it takes to blink. 15 nimeshas make one kastha and thirty kasthas is onekala. One month for humans is 1 day for the ancestors (pitri). One human year is 1 divaratra for gods. Time is divided into 4 yugas or ages: satya or krita, treta, dvapara and the kali. A cycle of one satya yuga, one treta yuga, one dvapara yuga and one kali yuga makes one Mahayuga and equals 12000 years of gods. 1 Manwantara = a little over 71 yugas. The system ofvarnashrama dharma (4 varnas or classes and 4 ashramasi) is described. Assigned occupation is as per division of labour. MP says: during Treta yuga, all followed the tenets of Varnashrama dharma, weather was clement, individuals healthy, poverty and diseases were unknown. People lived freely in mountains and on sea shores.  Hatred, jealousy, warfare and other evils originated in Dvapara Yuga. Kali Yuga is the worst. Deceit, lying, stealing, accumulating wealth by hook or by crook, and egotism become the norm instead of exceptions. Natural corollary to such evils are frequent occurrence of droughts and famines. Shudras become kings. Longevity goes down.

The story of Vajranga and Indra is given. Tarakasura is crowned the king of demons. Shiva burns cupid (Madana) to ashes, marries Parvati. In the marriage ceremony, Brahma is the priest. Skanda is born and is praised by the Siddhas. In the course of a fight between gods and the demons, there is the interesting incident of Vishnu getting knocked down unconscious by a club from the demon Jambha who is subsequently slain by Indra. Battle between demon Taraka and god Skanda is described. The asura Taraka is killed. An account is given as to how Shukracharya, son of Bhrigu, acquired the wonderful knowledge of MritaSanjivani. Shiva taught the art after Shukracharya observed a vrata (religious rite) for 1000 years living on smoke.

Matsya Purana tells that Vishnu is born several times as man because of a curse he received from Bhrigu for killing Bhrigu’s wife. The incidence of Indra’s daughter Jayanti proposing to Shukra to marry her for 10 years indicates the prevalence of contract marriage in such olden days. The story of how Kali (dark) became Gauri (fair) is different in MP from the one in Shiva Purana. In the story  of the encounter between Hiranyakashipu and Vishnu in his 4th avatar as NaraSimha, Vishnu does not emerge from pillar in MP. He walks straight into daitya Hiranyakashipu’s hall and tears him to death in cold-blood. The majortirthas are catalogued and their glories described including that of Varanasi or Kashi Benares. It then lists the lineages of famous sages: Kashyapa, Angira, Atri, Vashishttha, Bhrigu, Vishwamitra, , Agastya and Parashara. The story of Savitri and Satyavan is narrated in great detail followed by a recital of Rajadharma (duties of kings) and a cataloguing of various omens. There is a section on the interpretation of dreams. Vishnu incarnates as vamana (dwarf) to take care of the oppressive Vali and demons. After obtaining victory over Vali, Indra’s status in heaven is restored and the demons agree to live in underworld for good.

Boar incarnation of Vishnu described in MP is repeated in several other Puranas. Vishnu kills the demon Hiranyaksha and rescues the earth and the Vedas. Amritamanthan or churning of the ocean is fully described including the mythological description of the phenomena of solar and lunar eclipses caused by demon Rahu who, ever since, tries to swallow sun and moon.

The science of architecture, MP says, owes its origin to 18 great sages. Describes different types of houses and classifies deities.   Building a house should never be begun in the month of Chaitra. A good time is Vaishakha. Prescribes the number of doors a house should have. Not to use neem or mango trees in houses.  Vishnu’s image should have 4 or 8 hands. In theArdhanarishwara  image, Shiva’s image will be to the right and Parvati’s to the left. Mandapas (pavilions) are grouped according to the number of pillars used, and they should be triangular, semi-circular or rectangular in shape. There are 27 main types of pavilions. The kings of the Kali age and their dynasties are next described. Among the 16 different methods of donating alms, the most sacred is tulapurusha. The 16th form of donation is mahabhutaghata.   

Romaharshana concludes his recital of Matsya Purana by offering respects to the audience. A person who reads even one chapter of the Purana goes to heaven and all his sins are forgiven. The sages thank Romaharshana and depart.


markandeya puranaThis Purana is one of the most interesting, important and oldest among the Puranas. Although the shortest with 9000 verses, Markandeya Purana (MkP in short) is  placed in the same class as the Vedas and claims equal status with them since it is considered an immediate production from Brahma’s mouth. MkP is written in the form of a dialogue between the ancient sage Markandeya and Vyasa’s disciple Jaimini. But it does not acknowledge Vyasa as its composer, compiler or editor. MkP is non-sectarian in spirit, and has rarely in it, prayers and invocations to any deity. It concentrates on narratives. Vedic gods Surya, Agni, Vayu play prominent part, especially the sun-god. Its 137 chapters contain many beautifully written myths and legends. Because the theology of this Purana resembles the theology of the Vedas a lot, it is considered more ancient than other Puranas. The genuine portions of MkP are assigned to 3rd century CE.

The text of the Purana begins with four questions by Jaimini to Markandeya who refers him to 4 celestial birds living in the Vindhyas and possessing true knowledge. Jaimini goes there and puts the questions: Why was Lord Vasudeva  born as man? How was it that Draupadi was the queen of the five Pandavas? Why and how did Balarama expiate for killing a Brahmana? Why were the children of Draupadi killed when they had Arjuna and Krishna to protect them?

Chapters 1-7 tell the tale of the four birds who are actually the four sons of a Brahmana named Drona. The birds clear Jaimini’s four doubts. Vishnu assumed bodily forms to accomplish good. Draupadi became the common wife of the 5 Pandavas because the 5 brothers originated from Indra. Balarama killed a suta, who had attained to the dignity of Brahmana, in a state of inebriation and expiated for this sin by visiting holy shrines for 12 years. The first shrine he visited was Pratiloma Saraswati. The five deities, who, moved by pity, condemned the Brahmana-hater Vishwamitra’s excessive brutality to the liberal king and royal saint Harishchandra, were imprecated by the same Vishwamitra to incarnate as the five sons of Draupadi and die young, unmarried and childless.

Chapters 7-44 discourse on a variety of topics. Full story of king Harishchandra, his wife Shaivya, and the boy-son Rohitashwa is described till their ascension to the region of celestials. The big battle between Vashishttha and Vishwamitra, who fought taking the forms of two birds Ari and Heron respectively, is described. Questions pertaining to the existence or otherwise of all creatures are answered in great detail through the mouthpiece of a highly virtuous Brahmana youth named Sumati who had the power to recollect previous births. Loss of consciousness at the time of death, different kinds of death, life-after-death existence,  experiences with the god of the dead Yama and his emissaries, consequences of virtuous and sinful actions, births of persons coming out of hell, sufferings of creatures in hell and in womb, the creation and growth of human embryos, the positions embryos take in the womb, embryo’s recollections of its many births, regaining of consciousness on coming out of the womb when it feels the surrounding air, all these are narrated very nicely.

MkP says, “As soon as the male seed is mixed with female blood one, released from heaven or hell, enters into it. Accounts of and the tortures in many hells like Raurava, Maha Raurava, etc., are given. Raurava is an area having a diameter of 2000 yojanas and Maha Raurava of 12000 yojanas. Yoga is the best means to emancipation from the fetters of nature which makes creatures roll like a clock on the wheel of the world. The story of a debased leprosy-stricken Brahmana named Kausika and his devoted virtuous wife is given. Mandavya cursed Kausika to die before sun-rise and Kausika’s wife halted the sun-rise. Then comes the story of sage Atri and his chaste and pious wife Anusuya. On Anusuya’s invoking the sun, days resumed. Anusuya’s power of asceticism and chastity freed Kausika from his diseases and he regained his youth. Anusuya propitited Brahma and other celestials, and received a boon that Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva would be born as the 3 sons of Anusuya.

Dattatreya, the second son, was born within a week from his mother’s womb. Dattatreya robbed daityas of their energy helping the celestials defeat the daityas. (Paying to king revenue or protection money equivalent to 1/6th or 1/12th of produce/income was prevalent.) This is ensued by stories of Kritavirrya, king Shatrujit and his son Hritadhwaja, Galava rishi and the Kuvalaya horse. Hritadhwaja secretly married the Gandharva princess Madalasa in the nether region. In the fight between Hritadhwaja and the danava Patalaketu, the latter perished. Patalaketu’s brother Talaketu came to Hritadhwaja in the guise of an ascetic and tricked him. On hearing from Talaketu that Hritadhwaja was dead, Madalasa gave up her life. Goddess Saraswati conferred knowledge of all the musical notes on the Naga king Ashwatara. Ashwatara helped Hritadhwaja to get back Madalasa.

varahaIt is stated in MkP that “An unreal illusion is produced by the active energy of air, water, light, earth and ether.” Four sons were born to Madalasa and king Hritadhwaja. Madalasa named the youngest son as Alarka. Through Madalasa’s teachings to Alarka, many political, religious and social instructions are given such as duties of kings and the various orders and conditions of life, acts of householders, acts leading to one’s well-being, acts to be done and acts to be discarded; the Nitya, Naimittika and Nityanaimittika rites; details of Shraddha ceremony; the righteous ways of securing happiness; rules of good conduct. No other thing in this world destroys so much the longevity of a man as his intercourse with another’s wife. No harm in eating flesh that has been desired by Brahmanas of a Shraddha. Things acceptable and forbidden are listed. Alarka became king. The kingdom of Alarka was attacked by king of Kasi and Suvahu, Alarka’s elder brother. Alarka went to Dattatreya for advice and help, but attained knowledge. Dattatreya enumerated the signs of approaching death. Dattatreya imparted yogic knowledge to Alarka and taught him the daily routine of a yogi. Suvahu and the king of Kashi discuss on the best means to liberation and depart. The noble Alarka went to woods (vanaprastha), sang a hymn: “Alas, what pain. We ruled this kingdom before, but I have come to know this afterwards that there is no felicity greater than Yoga.”

Chapters 45-52: The two-fold Vaidika rites Pravritti  and Nivritti  which lead to   knowledge of the means of success and the discontinuance of the worldly acts are described. Our existence (preservation) is through the dual process of dissolution and evolution, the soul agent of which is the entity called Lord, Brahman or Narayana. The course of creation is from Brahma, the refuse of all the moving and immoveable, and is through Pradhana or Prakriti and the egg. Prakriti is the creative principle of nature, the Primordial Nature, the un-manifested cause or source of matter or mind. Birth of the egg and birth of the soul in this egg of Brahma are described. Soul grows in this Nature’s egg and Brahman is the consciousness of the soul. Part of creation is contained within this egg and part outside.

The un-manifested is Kshetra and Brahma is Kshetrajna. This is natural creation. When Brahma enters upon the work of creation, he is Hiranyagarbha, the first of the gods. He himself is the seed of all that is. He was the first to come into being. Limit of Brahma’s life is 200,000 trillion years (2.E+17 years). 12000 years of gods make 4 yugas (Satya, Treta, Dwapara, Kali) or Yugas. The span of Satya yuga is 4800 god-years, that of Treta 3600 god-years, Dwapara is 2400 god-years and Kali 1200 god-years. 1 day of Brahma is about 12 million god-years or 4.3 million earth-years. 14 Manus are generated in 1 day of Brahma and period of each Manu is divided into 1000 parts. The gods, the 7 Rishis, Indra, Manu, Manu’s sons, the kings are all created with each Manu and are dissolved again with him.

One Manvantara occurs in more than 70 such Yugas. 1 Manvantara = 367020000 human years. At the close of 1 Brahma day, periodic dissolution takes place. In dissolution, elemental dissolution or Pralaya, the temporal universe loses itself in Prakriti. Then Prakriti and Purusha remain in their own nature. The 2 qualities Tamas and Sattva remain in a state of equilibrium. Rajas quality exists in the qualities of Tamas and Sattva. At the time of dissolution, the terrestrial, the celestial and the ethereal worlds are all destroyed. Only Mahaloka survives. The 3 worlds become vast ocean. Brahma sleeps during night. At the end of night, he again creates world. The present time is second Parardha of the first kalpa called Varaha.

To create all mobile and immobile objects, Lord of creation Narayana took boar form and recovered earth from nether region, leveled earth, set forth mountains, divided it into 7 islands and created 4 worlds. There were 9 creations in all. The last one was Kaumara. Brahma from his mind created 4 kinds of creatures commencing with the gods and ending with inanimate objects. Then were created 4 classes of beings: the Devas, the Asuras, the Pitris and the men. A hair detached by Brahma from his head became the moving and the living objects such as reptiles, birds, animals, Kinnaras, Rakshas, Yakshas, Gandharvas, Apsaras, etc. Details of the birth and dissolution of gods, 7 Rishis, Indra, Manu, Manu’s sons are given.

vishnuHuman beings sprang from the Arbak current of creation. Details of how Brahma created Arbak are given. Brahma created humans in thousands and in pairs. The house-hold Kalpa tree satisfied all the desires of humans. Creation of castes and their qualities, duties and functions are detailed. Positions of honour are as by the law of service. Overtaken by greed, sense of ownership came and with that possession of private property. This commenced in Treta yuga when art of agriculture was also invented. Then arose conflicts, and for protection, were built houses, villages, fortresses, towns, cities using known standards of measurement. The smallest unit of measurement was the most subtle atom and the largest was Yojana. Houses with tree-like branches were called dwellings. A pura was a kind of house and was one-sixteenth of a yojana. Village mostly inhabited by agriculturists was called Shrama. Sukhanagar was a high-end pleasure resort. The village Akrimi was the resort of kings.

The superior sages compiled the ancient Samhitas and made a thousand-fold division of the Veda. The 7 primal Rishis (sages) received from Brahma the Vedas and the primal Munis the Puranas. Having created 9 sons, Brahma created Rudra, Samkalpa and Dharma. Dharma pre-existed Brahma. Next is the story of multiplication of humans through self-begotten Manu and Shatarupa, Daksha and Prasuti. MkP tells why men are deluded and strive after ruining women. Dushaha is born in the line of Adharma. He is the embodiment of all that is bad. He is most abominable and lives in the house of men. Dushaha has the voice of a cow, is ill-dressed with rags, always hungry and his face is downcast. He is hideous-looking and all-devouring. His wife is Nirmasti. Brahma enjoined Dushaha and Yaksha which house to go and when, and which houses to avoid. They follow Brahma’s injunctions.   All the progeny of Yaksha and Dushaha are full of iniquities and our whole world is covered by them. Markandeya relates in detail the creation that is called Rudra, his daughters, his 8 wives and the sons. A son called Nilalohita came from Brahma’s limbs. This baby continued to cry; so he was given the name Rudra seven times. That was how 8 Rudras were born. Mahadeva is the 8th Rudra. All the 8 Rudras have their respective abodes. These Rudras begot 8 sons on their 8 wives. Name of 1st son is Shanaischara and the last son Budha. Next is given a list of the sons and descendants of the daughters of Daksha.

Chapters 53-81 present an account of the 14 Manvantaras beginning with the first Swayambhuva Manu and also the gods, kings, Rishis and Indra of those periods. Measure of a Manvantara is 850,000 god-years. The first Manu had 10 sons. First one was Priyabrata. Continents and kings are described. Names, numbers and extents of islands, oceans, mountains and continents are given. Measures of movements of sun and moon are given. Earth is 1500 million yojanas in extent. Mountain named Mandara is described. Positions and measures of lands, waters, stars, 3 lokas and the netherworlds are described. Jambudvipais described in detail.

The course of many rivers is given and India is described resting on Vishnu in the form of a tortoise facing east. The 9 divisions of Bharata Varsha, its limits, its exact position, its lakes, mountains are described fully. Description is given of the various varshas. Kimpurusha varsha was a place where healthy men lived for 10,000 years. It is only in Bharata that 4 yugas and  4 castes exist. Bharat is said to be a region where fruits of merit are attained. Markandeya reveals that there was one more Manvantara named Sanchisha Manwantara after the 1st one and before the 2nd one. Given in detail are the gods, Rishis, Yakshas, the Indras, and the Pitris of the future Manvantara. Also given are the birth, the duration, and the progeny of these Manus. Savarni will be the 8th Manu. Varudhini’s son Swarochi got Manorama, Vibhavari and Kalavati as wives and found excellent pleasure in their company for hundreds of years. Swarochi mated with the forest goddess, who was in the form of a female deer, and his son Swarochisha became the 2nd Manu.

In this Manvantara, king Suradha, having lost his kingdom and gone to forest, met one Vyasa named Samadhi who was banished from his house by his wicked and covetous sons and wife. Both received directions from a Muni living in that forest. Indra is called Vipaschita in the 2nd Manvantara. Auttama was the Manu of the 3rd Manvantara, Tamasa the 4th Manu, 5th Manu was Raivata, 6th Manu Chakshusha and the current 7th Manu is Vaivashwata. MkP contains an interesting conversation between two ducks on the subject of enjoyments in this life. It is stated that even the self-restrained Brahmanas perform sacrifices for the sake of enjoyment. Markandeya tells in detail about that knowledge called Padmini which brings all objects of desire and the Niddhis attached to it. The story of Valaka and the Brahmani shows that not all Rakshas were cannibals and uncivil. There is a hymn to the glory of the sun. The Goddess by whose power the world is created is addressed as Mahamaya.

Chapters 81-93 are exclusively devoted to Durga or Devi Mahatmya (glorification of the great goddess). It is titled Saptasati because it consists of seven hundred verses. The poem details the origin of the goddess including Chamunda and others, their great encounters and Durga’s fierce and frightful combats with demons ending with the goddess annihilating their power and restoring to gods their lost positions. In the first, Mahamaya awakens Vishnu and enables Him to kill the demon brothers Madhu & Kaitabha. In the second,1000-handed Ma Durga destroys the buffalo-faced demon Mahishasura and his clan. Gratified gods pour Amaranthine flowers from heaven and there are gratitude hymns to Devi. Shumbha and Nishumbha are executed by Maha Devi. Contains stotras ‘Ya Devi Sarva Bhuteshu’, ‘Sarva Mangala Maangalye’ and ‘Sarva Swarupey’ .

Chapters 94-100: Brahma Savarni will be the 9th Manu and Advuta will be the king. 10th Manu will be Dharma Savarni, the 11th one will be Rudra Savarni, 12th will be Daksha Suvarni, Rochya will be the 13th Manu and the king Dishpati. The 14th and the last Manu will be named Bhoutya. The gods, sages, kings and the various classes of deities in each of these Manvantara are described. The story of Patriarch Ruchi who engages in a long conversation with the ancestral manes on marriage is described. Ruchi did penance to Brahma. He performed oblations to the manes on the banks of river Vivikti and propitiated them with hymns. Ruchi espoused Malini, daughter of apsara Premalocha. He begot the son Rouchya.

Chapters 101-110 give genealogy of Puranic dynasties beginning with Brahma. Brahma procreates Patriarch Daksha and his wife. Aditi is born as Daksha’s daughter. Son born to Brahma is Marichi whose son is Kashyapa who begets on Aditi the Divine Sun. After Divine Sun agrees to reduce his full effulgence and emit only a little, Brahma starts creating things: gods, asuras, men, beasts, trees, hells and others. Aditi gives birth to gods and Diti to danavas. The sun Martanda coming from Daksha performs the functions of the divine sun on earth. The word Martanda is formed from the word Marita which means to kill. The Brahma from mundane egg produces the lokas (worlds) and then the 4 Vedas.

Chapters 111-137: Markandeya praises the eternal Divine Sun. Gods and the Vedas are declared to be manifestations of sun. Sun granted long life to king Rajyavardhana. Manu of 7th Manvantara and Ikshwaka are his sons. Sudyumna’s son Pururava became king of Pratisthana. Narrated are famous mythological tales relating to king Prishadhna, prince Nabhag and many others in that line. Manu’s son Prishadhna was cursed for having killed a sacrificial cow and became a Shudra. His son Nabhaga attained Vaishyahood. Vatsapri married Sunanda (Mudavati), became king and begot 12 sons on her. Prangshu succeeded Vatsapri and after him came Prajaati. Next Khanitra became king. Khanitra retired to forest after installing his son Kshupa on throne. His son Khanineha became king and performed 676767 sacrifices. He got a son named Balashwa by performing hard austerities. Another name of Balashwa was Karandham that he got because from the shaking of his hands originated an army that destroyed the enemies. His wife was Veera. To them was born the son Aveekshit. Aveekshit’s defeat in battle, his liberation and disenchantment are given. Aveekshit married Vaishalini after killing the demon Danu. To the couple was born a son Marutta. Marutta ascended throne and got 18 sons through his wives. His eldest son Narishwanta became the king. Around the time Narishwanta performed a Yajna, there took place simultaneously 540 million Yajnas (Chapter 132). Narishwanta’s son Dama was born after living in his mother’s womb for 9 years. Following the beheading of Dama’s father by Vapushman, a big battle was fought between Dama and his opponents. Dama killed Vapushman.

The last chapter gives the benefits of listening to Markandeya Purana.


vishnu puranaThis Sattvika Purana approaches most closely to the Pancha-Lakshana definition of a Purana discussed by me earlier (Sanskriti, March 1, 2015). Vishnu Purana (VP in short) is second only to Bhagavata Purana in popularity and is quoted by many famous religious teachers. It has been given the title of Purana-ratna meaning ‘the gem of Puranas’. Vishnu Purana consists of 23,000 shlokas divided into 6 aṃśas or parts and 126 sections. Vishnu-dharmottara Purana is a Supplement or Appendix to VP. Because of greater unity and less of exaggeration of the sectarian sacrifices and ceremonies in this Purana than in others and the reference in it to Maurya dynasty, VP is taken to be among the earliest of Puranas and might have been composed around second century BCE.

VP does not enjoin any sectarian or other acts of supererogation. There are no sacrifices or modes of worship other than those conformable to the rituals of the Vedas, no vratas, no mahatmyas or golden legends, no religious holidays, no birthdays for Krishna, no welcoming night for Lakshmi. Many stories narrated are from the Vedic tradition. Vishnu Purana has come to us through generations of disciples. Originally composed by the Rishi (Narayana), it was first communicated by Brahma to Ribhu who passed the knowledge to Priyabrata who in turn gave it to Bhaguri and down to Vashishttha from whom Parashara learnt. Parasara passed on the knowledge to Maitreya who would eventually teach it to Shamika. Though the Purana ascribes authorship to Veda Vyasa, the entire VP is narrated by sage Parasara to Vyasa’s disciple Maitreya.

As the title of the Purana suggests, worship of Vishnu is given importance. Claim is made that worship of Vishnu would fulfill all the earthly desires and liberate  the devotees from the cycle of births and deaths. It declares Vishnu as Supreme God who creates universes and enters each one of them as Lord of that Universe. As Narayana, he creates, Brahma-like, the 14 worlds within the universe and deliberately accepts rajas guna. He accepts sattva guna to sustain, maintain and preserve the universe as Vishnu. By accepting tamas guna, he annihilates the universe as Shiva. The holy Trimurthy is only Vishnu/Narayana.

Part 1 of the Purana is occupied with stories of creation in detail and introduces the concept of four yugas. The cause of Sarga(primary creation) is taken from the Samkhya philosophy; but the agency that operates on Pradhana is partly from the Vedantic theory and partly from the Puranic doctrine of pantheism. Vishnu is declared to be the Purusha (Spirit), Pradhana(crude matter), Vyakta (all visible substance) and Kala (Time). After the world was made fit for habitation, it was peopled by will-engendered sons of Brahma (the Prajapatis or Patriarchs) and their posterity. The latter is generated either by giving wives to the Patriarchs (e.g., Swayambhuva and Shatarupa), or Brahma divides into a male and a female and the daughters born from this couple are married to the Prajapatis. The female descendants of the Patriachs become the wives of the Rishis. Sacrificial fires and the moon’s different phases are part of posterity. Alternate creation is through the patriarch Daksha whose daughters are mothers of all the existing things. The few regal personages pioneered agriculture and civilization on earth. There is an elaborate description of the churning of the ocean (Samudra Manthan). Story of Durvasa’s curse on Indra, the amplified legends of Dhruva and Prahlada, the stories of the ancient kings Vena and Prithu are detailed. Vali was son of Virochana, a son of Prahlada. Marisha, a daughter of the trees, married simultaneously the 10 sons Prachetas who were born to Prachinavarhi and Savarna to people the world.

Part 2 opens with a continuation of the kings of the first Manwantara; among them is one king Bharata (son of king Rishava) who is said to have given a name to India, called, after him, Bharata Varsha. The geographical system of the Puranas details Mount Meru, the 7 circular continents (dvipas) and their surrounding oceans to the limits of the world. Some geography is described: Bharatavarsha, lakes, courses of river Ganges. Region around Mt. Meru is said to be swarga (heaven) where live gods, goddesses, gandharvas, yakshas, rakshasas, daityas and danavas. Names of major mountains in Bharata Varsha are given. Patala is supported by Vishnu in the form of a 1000-headed snake Shesha.

Different kinds of hells (narakas) and the tortures therein are described. Some astronomy is given: concepts of the universe, the sun and the planets, detailed description of the chariot of the sun-god. Universe consists of 14 bhuvanasr or regions, 7 lokas and 7 patalas. These regions are surrounded by darkness on all sides. Around darkness is water, around that is fire, beyond fire is wind and beyond wind is sky. Thereafter is a narration of history of Jadabharata who was known by that name because he moved very slowly. JadaBharata thought of a deer while dying and was reborn as a jatismara deer. In the next life, he was born as a jatismara brahmana and attained liberation after obtaining true knowledge. This Jadabharata was the same old Bharata who was a king. Please note that while large parts of the geographical system of the Puranas are mythological fictions, such descriptions in respect to India are verifiable.

Part 3 begins with description of the arrangement of Vedas and other sacred literature. This is of considerable importance to the history of Sanskrit literature and the Hindu religion. Sage Vyasa is represented as the arranger of the Vedas, the Itihasas and the Puranas. His name denotes his character. After the stories concerning the sages Vyasa and Yajnavalkya, VP describes what Puranas are. There are 14 types of knowledge and 3 types of rishis. Discusses the stories of Manvantara (cycles of creation and destruction), kalpa, the sun god Surya, the god of the dead Yama. After death people go to Yama who sends sinners to narakas. Once these people have atoned for their sins, they are reborn. One way for men to avoid going to Yama is to become devotees of Vishnu. Next come descriptions of the four varnas, the four stages of life (ashramas) and details of many rituals. Story of creation of Mayamoha from Vishnu’s body is given. The story of devotees like Shatadhanu and Shaivya illustrates that if one mixes with fraudulent people who have given up the Vedas, one straight goes to naraka or hell. At the end of this part is a description of the origin of Buddhism.

krishnaPart 4 gives a detailed account of royal dynasties. First in line was Brahma. Next was Daksha Prajapati who was born from Brahma’s fingers. Daksha’s daughter was Aditi. Aditi’s son was Surya. Sury’s son was Manu and Manu’s daughter was Ila. As son, Ila was Sudyumna. Pururava was born son to Budha (Chandra’s son) and Ila. Sudyumna  had 3 sons. In this line was king Marutta who performed a yajna in which gods served food. Down the family tree was Sharyati whose daughter Sukanya married the sage Chyavan. Baladeva married Kakudmi’s daughter Revati. The details of Ikshvaku’s dynasty are given next. Ikshvaku was so named because he was born as a result of sneeze. His grandson Paranjaye was known as Kakutsa because he fought a war against asuras sitting on the shoulders (kakut) of Indra. One descendant of Kakutsa was Yuvanashwa. His son was named Mandhata because Indra became his nurse (Man dhata ‘I will be the nurse’). Mandhata became fully grown in a single day. Soubhari persuaded Mandhata to marry his 50 daughters to him. After getting 150 sons and having had his full quota of enjoyment, Mandhata devoted the remaining part of his life to Vishnu. Then is described the famous legend of Sagara and Bhagirattha. River Narmada received a boon from nagas that empowered it to give protection against snake poison. Sagara was born as son to king Vahu and his wife after living in the womb for 7 years. King Sagara got his name from the sage Ourva. Sagara begot 60,000 evil sons and one good one named Asamanjas.

King Sagar’s sacrificial horse was stolen and located in underworld. His evil sons attacked sage Kapila who reduced them to ashes. Bhagiratha, the son of Dilipa, the son of Amshumana, the son of Asamanjas brought celestial Ganga to earth and the 60000 evil sons ascended heaven. Ganga got the name Bhagiratthi. In the line of Bhagirattha was a king named Soudasa or Mitrasaha.  Due to a mis-understanding between him and his royal priest Vashishttha, the latter cursed Soudasa to become rakshasa for 12 years. Soudasa got the name Kalmashapada when he poured holy water on his feet and his feet turned black and diseased. At the end of 12 years, Soudasa was unable to go near his wife because of another curse. In this line was born Rama who destroyed Ravana. Bharata destroyed 30 million gandharvas. Shatrughna built the city of Mathura. Ikshvaku’s son Nimi was cursed to live without a body. Finally he lived on the eyelids of all men. That is the reason why the blink of the eyelids is known as nimesha. Nimi’s son was Janaka (father) who was so named because he emerged when the dead body of his father was pounded. Since his father had no body, Janaka is also called Vaideha (bodyless).

Next begins the Lunar Line of kings. Brahma’s son is Atri and Atri’s son is Chandra. Chandra abducted Brihaspati’s wife Tara resulting in the Tarakamaya war between devas and danavas. Devas won the war. Budha, the son of Chandra and Tara, married Ila and begot a son named Pururava. Due to a curse from Mitra and Varuna, Urvashi lived as Pururava’s queen on earth. They had 6 sons among whom Ayu was the eldest. Gandharvas taught Pururava the secret of fire. Pururavas introduced 3 types of fire on earth: Garhapatya, Ahavaniya, Dakshina. Pururava’s son Jahnu drank up the entire Ganga after which Ganga came to be known as Jahnavi. Sage Richika married Satyavati, a descendant of Jahnu. Satyavati and her mother got sons Jamadagni and Vishwamitra respectively by eating rice-puddings given by Richika. Indra ditched Ayu’s son Raji by going back on his promise to make Raji Indra. Raji’s sons got back the title of Indra from Indra.

Later through a conspiracy, Indra killed Raji’s sons and got back his Indraship. Next is given the story of king Nahusha (Ayu’s son) and Yayati. In Yadu’s line was born Arjuna who came to be known as Kartaviryarjuna. He had 1000 arms and he ruled for 10,000 years. His capital was Mahishmati. He defeated and imprisoned Ravana. He was eventually killed by Parashurama. We then have the very interesting story of the Syamantaka jewel. Satrajita, Krishna’s father-in-law, had obtained the Syamantaka jewel from sun-god. The jewel was lost but was retrieved by Krishna and as rewards, he got Jambavan’s daughter Jambavati and Satrajit’s daughter Satyabhama as wives. Krishna returned the jewel to Satrajita. But Shatadhanva killed Satrajita and stole the jewel. Krishna killed Shatadhanva and gave the jewel to Akrura permanently. In this connection, Krishna says: “….I am not really pure, I have 16000 wives. Baladeva should not have it (jewel) because he drinks all the time.” Krishna killed Shishupala, his cousin and prince of Chedi, like Vishnu killed Hiranyakashipu. Devapi and Shantanu were two sons of Pratipa, a king of Kuru clan. Devapi, the elder, went to forest, and Shantanu became the king. The story line now takes us to what we already know about Pandu, Dhritarashtra, Pandavas and the Kauravas. In addition to the 5 sons from their common wife Draupadi, Pandavas had other sons. Arjuna had many wives.

VP says, there will be a king by the name Mahapadmananda who will destroy all Kshatriyas. He and his dynasty will rule for 100 years. A Brahmana named Koutilya will kill all of them and make Chandragupta Mourya the shudra king. Maurya kings will rule for 137 years. Then the Shunga kings will rule for 112 years, followed by the Kanva kings for 45 years and the Andhra kings for 456 years. After this, there will be 14 dynasties from Abhiras up to Magadhas and Guptas. Establishment and succession of regular monarchies in India can be traced with credible precision to around 3000 BCE. Various inscriptions on stones, rocks and coins have verified the names of races and the kings such as the Gupta and Andhra Rajas. VP correctly specifies the interval between Chandragupta and the Mahabharata war to be 1100 years. This part ends with a description of Kali era or the dark period which will last for 3,60,000 years. Subjects will not have food to eat and clothes to wear. They will flee to mountains. Vishnu will incarnate as Kalki and re-establish Dharma.

Part 5 is exclusively occupied with the life of Lord Krishna and Balarama detailing different events from their birth through childhood, until the moment they left the earth, the prominent destruction of the Yadava vamsa (clan) and the advent of Kali era. There are no such descriptions in Mahabharata though Krishna is conspicuously prominent there.

The ball started rolling with Vasudeva marrying Devaki, and Prithvi (earth) taking a complaint to gods against Kamsa. Devaki delivered 8 children. For the 7th    child (Balarama), Vasudeva’s 2nd wife Rohini became the surrogate mother. Krishna was born as the 8th child on the 8th day of Krishnapaksha in the month of Shravana. Immediately on birth, Krishna was carried to Gokula or Vraja and placed on Yashoda’s bed in exchange for the baby-girl Yogamaya. Krishna was brought up under the care of Yasoda and her dairy owner husband Nanda. The book is full with stories of Krishna’s juvenile pranks, fun and frolics, his pastimes with the cow-boys and his destruction of the asuras or the demons (Putana, Pralamba, Keshin, Arishta, Kalanemi) sent by his mama (maternal uncle) Kamsa to kill him. As a baby, Krishna drank Putana’s life out of her. Sage Garga named Yashoda’s son Krishna and Rohini’s Rama. After uprooting two huge Arjuna trees, Krishna came to be known as Damodara. Krishna humiliated Kaliya Naga, a huge snake who poisoned the waters of Yamuna, and forced the serpent to leave the river Yamuna. Balarama killed the daitya Dhenukasura and Pralambasura and made the tala grove safe for the cattle to graze. Krishna convinced his foster-father Nanda and others to hold giri yajna (mountain ceremony) instead of the traditional Indra-worship. This enraged Indra who retaliated by causing it to rain for 7 days and inundated the area. Krishna protected the cattle and the men by holding the mountain Govardhana like an umbrella. This gave Krishna the title Govinda. The other exploits of the child Krishna and Balarama were the killings of the asuras Arishta and Keshi for which Krishna got the title Keshava. On Kamsa’s invitation, Akrura, Krishna and Balarama went to Mathura. When they reached, it was evening. On the way to the city, Krishna sent clear messages when he split a washer-man’s head into two and cured the hump of a woman named Kubja. Krishna and Balarama killed all the guards and the elephant Kuvalayapida. Krishna killed the wrestlers Chanur and Toshalaka, and Balarama Mushtika. Then Krishna caught Kamsa by his hair and threw him down. Kamsa died. The throne of Mathura was restored to the deposed king and Kamsa’s father Ugrasena. Krishna and Balarama next went to rishi Sandipani and learnt the art of fighting from him in 64 days. As guru Dakshina, the two gave back guru’s son for which they had to fight with daitya Panchajana and the god of the dead Yama. Krishna fashioned a conch from the daitya’s body. Magadha king and Kamsa’s father-in-law Jarasandha attacked Mathura 18 times but was repulsed by Krishna every time. Gargya’s dark-skinned son became the king of Yavanas and came to be known as Kalayavana.

DwarkaKrishna built a fort at Dwaraka surrounded by walls and moats. All the Yadavs moved there. Krishna very cunningly drew Kalayavana to a very dark cave and got him burnt to ashes by the sleeping king Muchukunda. On threat from Balarama, river Yamuna came to Gokula. Balarama returned to Dvaraka and married Revati. Krishna eloped with Rukmini and married her according to rakshasa form of marriage. Pradyumna, the son of Krishna and Rukmini, was kidnapped at birth by Shambarasura. Pradyumna was brought up by the housekeeper Mayavati whom he married after killing Shambarasura. Krishna and Rukmini had 1 daughter and 9 sons including Pradyumna. Krishna had 8 major wives including Rukmini out of a total of 16000. Pradyumna married Rukmi’s daughter and had a son named Aniruddha. Aniruddha married Rukmi’s grand-daughter. In a dice game, Balarama killed Rukmi, broke off Kalinga king’s teeth and killed many other kings. After killing Narakasura, a thief and an abductor of women, in a war, Krishna brought to Dwaraka from Narakasura’s palaced 16001 women, 6000 four-tusked elephants and horses among other things. Krishna visited heaven with Satyabhama. Forcibly brought the Parijata tree from there and kept it in his garden at Dwaraka. Krishna had more than 1,80,000 sons. Usha, the daughter of the 1000-armed Vanasura, chose Aniruddha as husband whom she dreamt. Aniruddha met Usha secretly. This led to a fight between Vanasura and Aniruddha. None of the two died. Aniruddha and Usha returned to Dwaraka with other Yadavas.

Krishna went to Kasi and killed Kashiraja Paundraka who had declared his self to be the Vasudeva. Varanasi was put on flames by him. Krishna’s son Shamba kidnapped Duryodhana’s daughter and got imprisoned. Shamba and his wife were released when Balarama threatened to hurl Hastinapura into Bhagiratthi. Balarama killed Dvivida, the monkey friend of the asura Naraka. Yadava youths insulted some sages at Pindaraka, a place of pilgrimage, by presenting Krishna’s son Shamba as an expectant mother. Shamba was cursed to give birth to a club or pestle. Jara hunter acquired a piece of the club. Yadavas got into a drunken fight and killed one another. Yadu vamsa was destroyed barring Krishna and Daruka. Balarama died. Daruka went to Dvaraka and informed Arjuna about the impending danger awaiting Dvaraka. Jara shot Krishna to death with an arrow. Krishna died. He was 100 years old. Arjuna performed the funeral rites of Krishna, Balarama and others. Krishna’s major wives entered fire. Others left for Dwaraka with Arjuna. Kali era began. Sea swallowed the city of Dwaraka. Yadava men were settled in Punjab.

The 6th and the last part give a vivid description of the Kali age. In this age, Vedic norms of varna and ashrama will not be followed. The mighty will be right (bossism). Women will all the time take care of their hair (beauty industry). Wealth will be the only thing that will matter. People will not be god-fearing, but boss-fearing. They will forget dharma. Selfishness and evil will flourish. Money will be earned through any means. Droughts will occur. Both men and women will be shorter than before. Men will not bathe before taking meals. Kings will not care for their subjects. No one will live for more than 20 years. All the classes will become like shudras. Shudras will earn punyas by serving other varnas and women will get punya by serving their husbands. 10 years of tapasya in Satya yuga will be equivalent to 1 day of tapasya in kali yuga. The figures for Treta and Dvapara are 1 year and 1 month respectively. Three types of pralayas (naimittika, prakrita and atyantika) and their signs are described. In the story of Keshidhwaja and Khandikya, devotional service to Vishnu is told to be the only means to absolute liberation. Details of Ashtanga-yoga system are described.

The book ends by praising the excellence of Vishnu Purana, the virtues of Lord Vishnu’s names and the results of hearing Lord’s name. The stain of Kali age is at once effaced by a single invocation of Hari (Vishnu).

BY Dr. Sachidanand  Das


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2 Responses to "Puranas in Indian Samskriti – Part 2"

  1. ajay kumar  April 20, 2015 at 10:09 am

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