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Viṣṇu Purāṇa

Chapter XIII

Posterity of Dhruva. Legend of Veṇa: his impiety: he is put to death by the Ṛṣis. Anarchy ensues. The production of Niṣāda and Prithu: the latter the first king. The origin of Sūta and Māgadha: they enumerate the duties of kings. Prithu compels Earth to acknowledge his authority: he levels it: introduces cultivation: erects cities. Earth called after him Prithivī: typified as a cow.

PARĀŚARA.--The sons of Dhruva, by his wife Śambhu, were Bhavya and Sliṣṭi. Suchchāyā, the wife of the latter, was the mother of five virtuous sons, Ripu, Ripunjaya, Vipra, Vrikala, and Vrikatejas. The son of Ripu, by Vrihatī, was the illustrious Chakṣuṣa, who begot the Manu Chākṣuṣa on Pushkariṇī, of the family of Varuṇa, the daughter of the venerable patriarch Anaraṇya. The Manu had, by his wife Navalā, the daughter of the patriarch Vairāja, ten noble sons, Uru, Pura, Satadyumna, Tapasvī, Satyavāk, Kavi, Agniṣṭoma, Atirātra, Sudyumna, and Abhimanyu. The wife of Uru, Āgneyī, bore six excellent sons, Anga, Sumanas, Svāti, Kratu, Angiras, and Śiva. Anga had, by his wife Sunīthā, only one son, named Veṇa, whose right arm was rubbed by the Ṛṣis, for the purpose of producing from it progeny. From the arm of Veṇa, thus rubbed, sprang a celebrated monarch, named Prithu, by whom, in olden time, the earth was milked for the advantage of mankind[1].

MAITREYA.--Best of Munis, tell me why was the right hand of Veṇa rubbed by the holy sages, in consequence of which the heroic Prithu was produced.

PARĀŚARA.--Sunīthā was originally the daughter of Mrityu, by whom she was given to Anga to wife. She bore him Veṇa, who inherited the evil propensities of his maternal grandfather. When he was inaugurated by the Ṛṣis monarch of the earth, he caused. it to be every where proclaimed, that no worship should be performed, no oblations offered, no gifts bestowed upon the Brahmans. "I, the king," said he, "am the lord of sacrifice; for who but I am entitled to the oblations." The Ṛṣis, respectfully approaching the sovereign, addressed him in melodious accents, and said, "Gracious prince, we salute you; hear what we have to represent. For the preservation of your kingdom and your life, and for the benefit of all your subjects, permit us to worship Hari, the lord of all sacrifice, the god of gods, with solemn and protracted rites[2]; a portion of the fruit of which will revert to you[3]. Viṣṇu, the god of oblations, being propitiated with sacrifice by us, will grant you, oh king, all your desires. Those princes have all their wishes gratified, in whose realms Hari, the lord of sacrifice, is adored with sacrificial rites." "Who," exclaimed Veṇa, "is superior to me? who besides me is entitled to worship? who is this Hari, whom you style the lord of sacrifice? Brahmā, Janārddana. Śambhu, Indra, Vāyu, Ravi (the sun), Hutabhuk (fire), Varuṇa, Dhātā, Pūṣā, (the sun), Bhūmi (earth), the lord of night (the moon); all these, and whatever other gods there be who listen to our vows; all these are present in the person of a king: the essence of a sovereign is all that is divine. Conscious of this, I have issued my commands, and look that you obey them. You are not to sacrifice, not to offer oblations, not to give alms. As the first duty of women is obedience to their lords, so observance of my orders is incumbent, holy men, on you." "Give command, great king," replied the Ṛṣis, "that piety may suffer no decrease. All this world is but a transmutation of oblations; and if devotion be suppressed, the world is at an end." But Veṇa was entreated in vain; and although this request was repeated by the sages, he refused to give the order they suggested. Then those pious Munis were filled with wrath, and cried out to each other, "Let this wicked wretch be slain. The impious man who has reviled the god of sacrifice who is without beginning or end, is not fit to reign over the earth." And they fell upon the king, and beat him with blades of holy grass, consecrated by prayer, and slew him, who had first been destroyed by his impiety towards god.

Afterwards the Munis beheld a great dust arise, and they said to the people who were nigh, "What is this?" and the people answered and said, "Now that the kingdom is without a king, the dishonest men have begun to seize the property of their neighbours. The great dust that you behold, excellent Munis, is raised by troops of clustering robbers, hastening to fall upon their prey." The sages, hearing this, consulted, and together rubbed the thigh of the king, who had left no offspring, to produce a son. From the thigh, thus rubbed, came forth a being of the complexion of a charred stake, with flattened features (like a negro), and of dwarfish stature. "What am I to do?" cried he eagerly to the Munis. "Sit down" (Nishida), said they; and thence his name was Niṣāda. His descendants, the inhabitants of the Vindhya mountain, great Muni, are still called Niṣādas, and are characterized by the exterior tokens of depravity[4]. By this means the wickedness of Versa was expelled; those Niṣādas being born of his sins, and carrying them away. The Brahmans then proceeded to rub the right arm of the king, from which friction was engendered the illustrious son of Veṇa, named Prithu, resplendent in person, as if the blazing deity of Fire bad been manifested.

There then fell from the sky the primitive bow (of Mahādeva) named Ajagava, and celestial arrows, and panoply from heaven. At the birth of Prithu all living creatures rejoiced; and Veṇa, delivered by his being born from the hell named Put, ascended to the realms above. The seas and rivers, bringing jewels from their depths, and water to perform the ablutions of his installation, appeared. The great parent of all, Brahmā, with the gods and the descendants of Angiras (the fires), and with all things animate or inanimate, assembled and performed the ceremony of consecrating the son of Veṇa. Beholding in his right hand the (mark of the) discus of Viṣṇu, Brahmā recognised a portion of that divinity in Prithu, and was much pleased; for the mark of Viṣṇu's discus is visible in the hand of one who is born to be a universal emperor[5], one whose power is invincible even by the gods.

The mighty Prithu, the son of Veda, being thus invested with universal dominion by those who were skilled in the rite, soon removed the grievances of the people whom his father had oppressed, and from winning their affections he derived the title of Rāja, or king[6]. The waters became solid, when he traversed the ocean: the mountains opened him a path: his banner passed unbroken (through the forests): the earth needed not cultivation; and at a thought food was prepared: all kine were like the cow of plenty: honey was stored in every flower. At the sacrifice of the birth of Prithu, which was performed by Brahmā, the intelligent Sūta (herald or bard) was produced, in the juice of the moon-plant, on the very birth-day[7]: at that great sacrifice also was produced the accomplished Māgadha: and the holy sages said to these two persons, "Praise ye the king Prithu, the illustrious son of Veṇa; for this is your especial function, and here is a fit subject for your praise." But they respectfully replied to the Brahmans, "We know not the acts of the new-born king of the earth; his merits are not understood by us; his fame is not spread abroad: inform us upon what subject we may dilate in his praise." "Praise the king," said the Ṛṣis, "for the acts this heroic monarch will perform; praise him for the virtues he will display."

The king, hearing these words, was much pleased, and reflected that persons acquire commendation by virtuous actions, and that consequently his virtuous conduct would be the theme of the eulogium which the bards were about to pronounce: whatever merits, then, they should panegyrize in their encomium, he determined that he would endeavour to acquire; and if they should point out what faults ought to be avoided, he would try to shun them. He therefore listened attentively, as the sweet-voiced encomiasts celebrated the future virtues of Prithu, the enlightened son of Veṇa.

"The king is a speaker of truth, bounteous, an observer of his promises; he is wise, benevolent, patient, valiant, and a terror to the wicked; he knows his duties; he acknowledges services; he is compassionate and kind-spoken; he respects the venerable; he performs sacrifices; he reverences the Brahmans; he cherishes the good; and in administering justice is indifferent to friend or foe."

The virtues thus celebrated by the Sūta and the Magadhā were chersed in the remembrance of the Rāja, and practised by him when occasion arose. Protecting this earth, the monarch performed many great sacrificial ceremonies, accompanied by liberal donations. His subjects soon approached him, suffering from the famine by which they were afflicted, as all the edible plants had peṛṣed during the season of anarchy. In reply to his question of the cause of their coming, they told him, that in the interval in which the earth was without a king all vegetable products had been withheld, and that consequently the people had peṛṣed. "Thou," said they, "art the bestower of subsistence to us; thou art appointed, by the creator, the protector of the people: grant us vegetables, the support of the lives of thy subjects, who are peṛṣing with hunger."

On hearing this, Prithu took up his divine bow Ajagava, and his celestial arrows, and in great wrath marched forth to assail the Earth. Earth, assuming the figure of a cow, fled hastily from him, and traversed, through fear of the king, the regions of Brahmā and the heavenly spheres; but wherever went the supporter of living things, there she beheld Vaiṇya with uplifted weapons: at last, trembling with terror, and anxious to escape his arrows, the Earth addressed Prithu, the hero of resistless prowess. "Know you not, king of men," said the Earth, "the sin of killing a female, that you thus perseveringly seek to slay me." The prince replied; "When the happiness of many is secured by. the destruction of one malignant being, the death of that being is an act of virtue." "But," said the Earth, "if, in order to promote the welfare of your subjects, you put an end to me, whence, best of monarchs, will thy people derive their support." "Disobedient to my rule," rejoined Prithu, "if I destroy thee, I will support my people by the efficacy of my own devotions." Then the Earth, overcome with apprehension, and trembling in every limb, respectfully saluted the king, and thus spake: "All undertakings are successful, if suitable means of effecting them are employed.

I will impart to you means of success, which you can make use of if you please. All vegetable products are old, and destroyed by me; but at your command I will restore them, as developed from my milk. Do you therefore, for the benefit of mankind, most virtuous of princes, give me that calf, by which I may be able to secrete milk. Make also all places level, so that I may cause my milk, the seed of all vegetation, to flow every where around."

Prithu accordingly uprooted the mountains, by hundreds and thousands, for myriads of leagues, and they were thenceforth piled upon one another. Before his time there were no defined boundaries of villages or towns, upon the irregular surface of the earth; there was no cultivation, no pasture, no agriculture, no highway for merchants: all these things (or all civilization) originated in the reign of Prithu. Where the ground was made level, the king induced his subjects to take up their abode. Before his time, also, the fruits and roots which constituted the food of the people were procured with great difficulty, all vegetables having been destroyed; and he therefore, having made Svāyambhuva Manu the calf[8], milked the Earth, and received the milk into his own hand, for the benefit of mankind. Thence proceeded all kinds of corn and vegetables upon which people subsist now and perpetually. By granting life to the Earth, Prithu was as her father, and she thence derived the patronymic appellation Prithivī (the daughter of Prithu). Then the gods, the sages, the demons, the Rākṣasas, the Gandharbhas, Yakṣas, Pitris, serpents, mountains, and trees, took a milking vessel suited to their kind, and milked the earth of appropriate milk, and the milker and the calf were both peculiar to their own species[9].

This Earth, the mother, the nurse, the receptacle, and nouṛṣer of all existent things, was produced from the sole of the foot of Viṣṇu. And thus was born the mighty Prithu, the heroic son of Veṇa, who was the lord of the earth, and who, from conciliating the affections of the people, was the first ruler to whom the title of Rāja was ascribed. Whoever shall recite this story of the birth of Prithu, the son of Veṇa, shall never suffer any retribution for the evil he may have committed: and such is the virtue of the tale of Prithu's birth, that those who hear it repeated shall be relieved from affliction[10].

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- Footnotes:


The descent of Puru from Dhruva is similarly traced in the Matsya Purāṇa, but with some variety of nomenclature: thus the wife of Dhruva is named Dhanyā; and the eldest son of the Manu, Taru. The Vāyu introduces another generation, making the eldest son of Sliṣṭi, or as there termed Puṣṭi, father of Udāradhī; and the latter the father of Ripu, the father of Chakṣuṣa, the father of the Manu. The Bhāgavata has an almost entirely different set of names, having converted the family of Dhruva into personifications of divisions of time and of day and night. The account there given is, Dhruva had, by his wife Bhramī (revolving), the daughter of Śiśumāra (the sphere), Kalpa and Vatsara. The latter married Suvīthi, and had six sons, Puṣpārṇa, Tigmaketu, Iṣa, Urjja, Vasu, Jaya. The first married Prabhā and Doṣā, and had by the former, Prātah (dawn), Madhyadina (noon), and Sāya (evening); and by the latter, Pradoṣa, Niśītha, and Vyuṣṭa, or the beginning, middle, and end of night. The last has, by Pushkariṇī, Chakṣush, married p. 99 to Ākūti, and the father of Chākṣuṣa Manu. He has twelve sons, Puru, Kritsna, Rita, Dyumna, Satyavat, Dhrita, Vrata, Agniṣṭoma, Atirātra, Pradyumna, Sivi, and Ulmuka. The last is the father of six sons, named as in our text, except the last, who is called Gaya. The eldest, Anga, is the father of Veṇa, the father of Prithu. These additions are evidently the creatures of the author's imagination. The Brāhma Purāṇa and Hari Vanśa have the same genealogy as the Viṣṇu, reading, as do the Matsya and Vāyu, Pushkarini or Vīraṇī, the daughter of Vīraṇā, instead of Varuṇa. They, as well as copies of the text, present several other varieties of nomenclature. The Padma P. (Bhūmi Khaṇḍa) says Anga was of the family of Atri, in allusion perhaps to the circumstance mentioned in the Brāhma P. of Uttānapāda's adoption by that Ṛṣi.


With the Dīrghasatra, 'long sacrifice;' a ceremony lasting a thousand years.


That is, the land will be fertile in proportion as the gods are propitiated, and the king will benefit accordingly, as a sixth part of the merit and of the produce will be his. So the commentator explains the word 'portion.'


The Matsya says there were born outcast or barbarous races, Mlechchas, as black as collyrium. The Bhāgavata describes an individual of dwarfish p. 101 stature, with short arms and legs, of a complexion as black as a crow, with projecting chin, broad flat nose, red eyes, and tawny hair; whose descendants were mountaineers and foresters: The Padma (Bhu. Kh.) has a similar description, adding to the dwarfish stature and black complexion, a wide mouth, large ears, and a protuberant belly. It also particularizes his posterity as Niṣādas, Kirātas, Bhillas, Bahanakas, Bhramaras, Pulindas, and other barbarians, or Mlechchas, living in woods and on mountains. These passages intend, and do not much exaggerate, the uncouth appearance of the Goands, Koles, Bhils, and other uncivilized tribes, scattered along the forests and mountains of central India, from Behar to Kandesh, and who are not improbably the predecessors of the present occupants of the cultivated portions of the country. They are always very black, ill-shapen, and dwarfish, and have countenances of a very African character.


A Chakra-verttī, or, according to the text, one in whom the Chakra, the discus of Viṣṇu, abides (varttate); such a figure being delineated by the lines of the hand. The grammatical etymology is, 'he who abides in, or rules over, an extensive territory called a Chakra.'


From rāga, 'passion' or 'affection;' but the more obvious etymology is rāj, to shine' or 'be splendid.'


The birth of Prithu is to be considered as the sacrifice, of which Brahmā, the creator, was the performer; but in other places, as in the Padma, it is considered that an actual sacrificial rite was celebrated, at which the first encomiasts were produced. The Bhāgavata does not account for their appearance.


'Having willed or determined the Manu Svāyambhuva to be the calf:' ###. So the Padma P.: ###. The Bhāgavata has, 'Having made the Manu the calf.' By the calf,' or Manu in that character, is typified, the commentator observes, the promoter of the multiplication of progeny: ###.


The Matsya, Brāhma, Bhāgavata, and Padma enter into a greater detail of this milking, specifying typically the calf, the milker, the milk, and the vessel. Thus, according to the Matsya, the Ṛṣis milked the earth through Vrihaspati; their calf p. 105 was Soma; the Vedas were the vessel; and the milk was devotion. When the gods milked the earth, the milker was Mitra (the sun); Indra was the calf; superhuman power was the produce. The gods had a gold, the Pitris a silver vessel: and for the latter, the milker was Antaka (death); Yama was the calf; the milk was Swadhā, or oblation. The Nāga, or snake-gods, had a gourd for their pail; their calf was Takṣaka; Dhritarāṣṭra (the serpent) was their milker; and their milk was poison. For the Asuras, Māyā was the milk; Virochana, the son of Prahlāda, was the calf; the milker was Dwimurddhā; and the vessel was of iron. The Yakṣas made Vaisravaṇa their calf; their vessel was of unbaked earth; the milk was the power of disappearing. The Rākṣasas and others employed Raupyanābha as the milker; their calf was Sumāli; and their milk was blood. Chitraratha was the calf, Vasuruchi the milker, of the Gandharbas and nymphs, who milked fragrant odours into a cup of lotus leaves. On behalf of the mountains, Meru was the milker; Himavat the calf; the pail was of crystal; and the milk was of herbs and gems. The trees extracted sap in a vessel of the Palāśa, the Sāl being the milker, and the Plakṣa the calf. The descriptions that occur in the Bhāgavata, Padma, and Brāhma Purāṇas are occasionally slightly varied, but they are for the most part in the same words as that of the Matsya. These mystifications are all probably subsequent modifications of the original simple allegory, which typified the earth as a cow, who yielded to every class of beings the milk they desired, or the object of their wishes.


Another reading is, 'It counteracts evil dreams.' The legend of Prithu is briefly given in the Mahābhārata, Rāja Dherma, and occurs in most of the Purāṇas, but in greatest detail in our text, in the Bhāgavata, and especially in the Padma, Bhūmi Khaṇḍa, s. 29, 30. All the versions, however, are essentially the same.

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