The Bhagavata Purana

by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 780,972 words | ISBN-10: 8120838203 | ISBN-13: 9788120838208

This page describes Prithu explains Dharma to his subjects which is chapter 21 of the English translation of the Bhagavata Purana, one of the eighteen major puranas containing roughly 18,000 metrical verses. Topics include ancient Indian history, religion, philosophy, geography, mythology, etc. The text has been interpreted by various schools of philosophy. This is the twenty-first chapter of the Fourth Skandha of the Bhagavatapurana.

Chapter 21 - Pṛthu explains Dharma to his subjects

Maitreya said:

1-3. (Pṛthu retired to his capital city)—the city was decorated everywhere with wreaths of pearls and garlands of flowers, with silk drapery and decorative arches of gold, and with extremely fragrant incense (burning). Its streets and squares were besprinkled with water scented with sandal and agaru (agallochum). They were beautified with flowers, akṣatas (unbroken rice pigmented with red kuṃkuma), fruits, tender barley-shoots, parched grains of rice, and illuminated with lamps. It was adorned with plantain trees as well as with young arica plants laden with fruits and flowers, and was beautified with wreaths of tender leaves of (mango and other) trees.

4. His subjects, along with beautiful girls wearing bright gold earrings, went forward to greet him with lamps, materials of worship, and all other auspicious articles (such as curds) prepared (for the occasion).

5. In the midst of blowing of conches and sounding of kettle-drums and chanting of Vedic hymns (by Brāhmaṇas), the warrior who was untouched by pride, in spite of the singing of his eulogies, entered his palace.

6. The highly renowned king was honoured everywhere on his way. He (in return) honoured the residents of his city as well as his subjects from rural areas. He was pleased with them, and granted them the boons they liked.

7. Performing many such and other achievements, the most adorable king of great virtues and pious conduct, governed this globe of the earth. After establishing his pure reputation, he ascended to the highest abode (Vaikuṇṭha).

Sūta said:

8. Oh Śaunaka (Leader of the sacrificial assembly in the Naimiṣa forest)! Vidura, the great devotee of the Lord respectfully adored Maitreya, (the son of Kuṣīrava), who was eulogising the primal king’s (Pṛthu’s) worldwide renown of all excellent attributes which was glorified by highly virtuous people. He spoke to him (Maitreya, as follows):

9. Pṛthu who received adorations from all gods, and who bore in his arms the mighty and heroic lustre of god Viṣṇu wherewith he milked the earth (in the form of a cow), was coronated by Brāhmaṇas.

10. What wise man will not listen to the glories of Pṛthu on the remnants of whose valorous achievements, all the rulers of the world, the guardian deities and the people, still subsist to their hearts’ content—Please, therefore, narrate to me in details his pious deeds.

Maitreya said:

11. Dwelling in the land (doāb) lying between the rivers—the Gaṅgā and the Yaraunā, Pṛthu enjoyed only those pleasures which came to his lot, as a result of the fruition of his past deeds, as he desired to exhaust (the stock of) his merit (and not due to addiction to pleasures).

12. His writ ran unobstructed everywhere. He wielded his sceptre (sovereignty), over seven island-continents[1]—with the exception of Brāhmaṇas and devotees of Hari (who was like their progenitor).

13. Once upon a time, he was consecrated for the performance of a great sacrifice. There assembled, Oh Vidura, a congregation of gods, Brāhmaṇa sages and royal sages.

14. When all the respectable persons were duly honoured according to their merits and positions, he (Pṛthu) stood up in that assembly, like the moon in the midst of stars.

15. He was tall with muscular long arms; he was fair in complexion; his eyes were reddish like a red lotus; his nose was shapely; his countenance, beautiful. He was gentle in appearance; his shoulders were rounded. His rows of teeth and smiles were beautiful.

16. That powerful monarch had a broad chest, full, bulky loins, stomach shaped like a pipal leaf and beautified with three folds; his navel was deep and circular like a whirlpool, his thighs were like pillars of gold, and the fore part of his feet was slightly plump (elevated) and prominent.

17. He had fine, curly, dark and glossy hair on the head. His throat was (marked with three spiral lines) like a conch. He wore two costly silk garments, one around his waist and one around his upper part of the body.

18. Due to his sacrificial vow, he laid aside his ornaments. So the natural splendour of the limbs of his body became manifest. He looked dignified with (upper part of) his body covered with the skin of a black-antelope, and with Kuśa grass in his hand he had completed the prescribed religious acts (of that time).

19-20. He looked around with his calm, soothing, affectionate eyes. With a view to thrilling the assembly with joy, the Lord of the earth delivered the following address which was pleasant to hear, couched in beautiful figurative expressions, polished, deep in significance, unagitated and calm. He was, as if, briefly narrating, at that time, his own experiences for the benefit of all.

The King said:

21. “Oh members of this assembly, please listen to me. May auspiciousness betide you all righteous people who have come here. Persons desirous of knowing (the true nature of) Dharma—righteousness—should state (fully) their concept (of Dharma) before the righteous people. (Hence I speak out to you my concept.)

22. I have been installed here as a king to govern and dispense punishment (to anti-social elements), to protect the people, to provide them their means of livelihood, to control them severally within their respective spheres of duties.

23. May those regions which yield whatever one desires and which are reached—according to the knowers of the Vedas—by persons with whom (Lord Hari), the Witness of the previous deeds of all persons, is pleased, be attainable to me, by my performance of this duty.

24. The monarch who collects taxes without imparting instruction to his subjects in their respective religious duties, shares their sins only, and forgoes his own good luck.

25. My dear subjects! You should, therefore, (continue to) perform your own righteous duties, fixing your mind on god Viṣṇu, and remain free from jealousy. It will be in the interest of the subsistence of your king hereafter, as well as in your own. You would thereby be rendering a great favour to me.

26. Oh pure-hearted and sinless Pitṛs (manes), gods and sages, kindly give your hearty approval (to my request): ‘May the doer, the preceptor and the consenter of any action share equally its fruit in the next world.’

27. Oh most worthy men, Mīmāṃsakas! According to some (believers in God), there exists the Lord of sacrifices (the dispenser of the fruit of karmas). For here and in the next world, there are seen some rare regions full of moonlight(meant for enjoying pleasures), as well as bodies brilliant like moonlight (which are the mediums for enjoying worldly pleasures as a result of karmas).

28-29.[2] In the opinion of Svāyambhuva Manu, Uttānapāda, even of king Dhruva, the royal sage Priyavrata, my paternal grandfather Aṅga and such others, as well as that of god Brahmā and Lord Śiva, as also that of Prahlāḍa and even of Bali (whom Viṣṇu pushed down to subterranean regions), Gadādhara (Lord Viṣṇu) must necessarily be postulated as the dispenser of the fruit of karmas.

30.[2] With the exception of Mṛtyu’s daughter’s son (i.e. Vena) and others who are deluded about religion, and deserve to be pitied (lamented), others believe that there must be one common cause (i.e. God) who mainly dispenses the three puruṣārthas (viz. Dharma, Artha and Kama), heavenly bliss and Liberation.

31. The relish and desire of serving the Lord’s feet, increase with the passing of each day. Like the river (Gaṅgā) flowing out from his (Viṣṇu’s) toe, this ever-increasing desire to serve, washes off instantaneously the sins, accumulated through all the past lives, in the minds of people who are tormented with pains and afflictions.

32. A person who takes shelter at His feet, gets all the impurities in his mind washed off, develops special powers of non-attachment and self-realization, and does not return to saṃsāra (the cycle of births and deaths) which brings with it all miseries.

33. With faith in sure achievement of your goal (Liberation) according to your capacity and merit, and without any hypocrisy, you worship him only—whose lotus-like feet yield all your desires—with (i.e. dedicating to him) all duties pertaining to your vocations, and with all the powers of mind, speech and body (i.e. performance of meditation, prayer and worship), and with duties (of your respective caste and stage of life—varṇa and āśrama).

34.[3] Though, by nature, he is pure knowledge and consciousness, and devoid of any attribute, he manifests himself here as sacrifice possessing innumerable attributes (or essential requirements etc. of sacrifice), such as rice (and other sacrificial materials), qualities (of things such as whiteness, blackness), actions (such as threshing, winnowing of grains), words (mantras used in sacrifices), purpose (for which acts are meant), the intention or object (of performing the sacrifice), the efficacy (of sacrificial materials so used), and means (by which the sacrifice is known, e.g. agniṣṭoma).

35.[4] Just as fire in (a piece of) wood appears as possessing all the characteristics (e.g. size, shape etc.) of the (piece of) wood, the Omniscient Lord (though essentially the Highest Bliss itself) appears as intellect or consciousness (which identifies itself with the external objects) in the body, which is a product of Pradhāna (Prakṛti or Primordial Nature), Kala (the Principle of Time which sets in commotion or agitation the guṇas of Prakṛti), Vāsanā (impressions unconsciously left on the mind by the past actions which give rise to pleasure or pain) and dharma (merit or demerit constituting the fate or adṛṣṭa of an individual) and manifests himself as the fruit of religious acts (e.g. a sacrifice).

36.[5] Oh! How blessed I am that my subjects of firm vows, always worship Hari by performing their prescribed religious duties in this world—God Hari who is the preceptor (or Father) and the Supreme Lord of divinities who receive oblations in sacrifices. These (subjects) render me great favour.

37.[6] At no time may the martial lustre of the ruling princely families, born of great military power and effluence, dominate over the race of Vaiṣṇavas, the votaries of the unconquerable god (Viṣṇu) and that of the Brāhmaṇas who (though lacking in opulence) are resplendent on account of their forbearance, austere penance and learning.

38. Even Lord Hari, the mosṭ ancient person, the foremost among the greatest (of gods like Brahmā) is gracious unto Brāhmaṇas. It is by paying obeisance to their feet that he got Lakṣmī (the goddess of wealth) who never forsakes him and great glory that hallows the world.

39. The Absolutely independent Supreme God who resides in the hearts of all and to whom Brāhmaṇas are dear is certainly pleased by service rendered to them (Brāhmaṇas). Therefore, may the Brāhmaṇa race be served sincerely, and with all your hearts, by persons who are self-controlled, disciplined and devoted to the righteous duties (prescribed in the Bhāgavata way of life) pleasing to him.

40.[7] By constant association with and service of the Brāhmaṇa (caste), the mind soon attains purity and serenity, (and consequently) the person, automatically (without any effort to get knowledge or Yogic practice) attains the highest bliss and final emancipation. Is there any better mouth of gods who receive oblations through fire than the Brāhmaṇa race? (The fruit of sacrifices and of knowledge is obtained by service of Brāhmaṇas).

41. The infinite Lord who is essentially knowledge incarnate and the indweller of all creatures, does not verily relish so much the oblations offered to the sacrificial fire which is devoid of consciousness, as certainly those offered with faith, into the mouths of the Brāhmaṇas in the names of adorable divinities (like Indra, Varuṇa) to be invoked in sacrifices, by the knowers of the Truth.

42. With a view to understanding the true import of the Vedas in which the universe is clearly reflected as in a clean mirror, they (Brāhmaṇas) bear (in their memories) the pure and eternal Vedas with faith, austere penance, auspicious conduct, control of speech unrelated to Vedic studies, selfcontrol and concentration of mind. (Hence Brāhmaṇas are superior to fire due to their knowledge of Vedas).

43. I would like to bear on my crown the dust from the lotus-like feet of those (Brāhmaṇas), for, the sin of the man who wears this dust, immediately disappears, and all excellent attributes abide in him, Oh noble ones.

44. Affluence (in every respect) and accomplishments of desires seek to follow a man who is the receptacle of excellent qualities, looks upon character as his wealth, is full of gratitude, and resorts to wise elderly people. May the race of Brāhmaṇas, and that of cows, Lord Viṣṇu, along with his votaries (and followers) be gracious unto me.”

Maitreya said:

45. All Pitṛs (manes), gods and Brāhmaṇas felt highly pleased at heart with the king who spoke thus. Those pious souls expressed their approbation and praised him.

46. True is the Vedic text that a man attains to the higher worlds by means of a son. For the sinful Vena (Pṛthu’s father) who was killed by Brahmanical curse, has crossed over the dark Hell (through Pṛthu).

47. And Hiraṇyakaśipu also was about to enter the dark hell for reviling the Lord, but crossed over it through the power of piety of Prahlāda (his son).

48. Oh foremost warrior, father of the earth! May you live long for eternal years, as you cherish such devotion to Lord Viṣṇu, the sole ruler of all worlds.

49. Oh King of holy fame! With you as our ruler, we regard ourselves as having today Lord Viṣṇu as our ruler, as you reveal to us the narratives of Viṣṇu whose renown saves others from infernal regions and who is favourable to Brāhmaṇas.

50. Oh Lord! It is the nature of the great, whose hearts are full of pity, to love their subjects. Hence, it is no wonder that you exhort your dependants this way.

51. Oh King! You have brought us today across the hell—we who, losing their insight due to our past deeds designated as Fate,—have been wandering in Saṃsāra.

52. Salutation to you, the most powerful Person with dominant Sāttvic attributes, who inspiring the Brāhmaṇa race by your force support the Kṣattriya race and vice versa, and inspiring both Brāhmaṇas and Kṣattriyas support the universe by virtue of your own power.

Footnotes and references:


They are: Jambu, Plakṣa, Śālmali, Kuśa, Krauñca, Śāka and Puṣkara.


These verses refute the view of Pūrva-mīmāṃsā (and that of other heretic doctrines attributed to Indra’s Māyā) about the non-existence of God. The karma doctrine must be accepted to explain the variety and inequality in the world. Karma, by itself, is inert (jaḍa) and deities like Indra, Varuṇa are themselves dependent (paratantra).

For the dispensation of the fruits of karma and for explaining inequality in the world, we must postulate an independent God possessing powers of doing, undoing and changing differently:

ataḥ svātantryeṇa kartum akartum anyathā-kartuṃ samarthena parameśvareṇa bhāvyam /—Bhāvāratha Dīpikā


(i) VC.: Verses 34 and 35 state that karma is essentially impure, inert (jaḍa) and rājasa (characterised by the guṇa, rajas). But if it is, devoutly dedicated to God, it is transformed into pure sāttvic nature, and yields fruit. Hence the author advises karma mixed with bhakti (devotion).

(ii) Padaratnāvalī: This verse illustrates the term Svakarmabhiḥ in the previous verse (33). Nārāyaṇa described in Ait. Up. 1.1. is attained to by a righteous person who performs sacrifices of many kinds, and of many attributes (or requirements), such as materials (puroḍāśa etc.), qualifications viz. good heredity or birth from particular parents (of the sacrificer), actions i.e. Vedic incantations for gods like Indra, Agni, by the sacrificial priests, the interest of these gods in the sacrificer, and the characteristics of gods, e.g. Indra, holding a Vajra (or god Nārāyaṇa, the wielder of Sudarśana disc). By this sacrificial act, the mind gets purified, and the higher knowledge which terminates the saṃsāra, dawns on the sacrificer. It is by such deeds that Janaka and others attained final beatitude (B.G. 3.20).

(iii) Siddhāntapradīpa: Karmas dedicated to God lead to God-realization. God is devoid of bad attributes (aguṇa) and possesses innumerable auspicious attributes (aneka-guṇa [guṇaḥ]).


(i) The previous verse identifies God with sacrifice. In this verse, the fruit of sacrifice is stated to be the manifestation of the Lord—Bhāvāratha Dīpikā

(ii) Bhāgavata Candrikā: This verse identifies the Lord with Jīva, the enjoyer of the fruit of karma, as well as the fruit of the act itself (atha karma-bhoktṛ- jīva-rūpatvaṃ tat-phala-rūpatvaṃ cāha). The Lord is the inner-dweller (antaryāmin) of jīvas. As such, through the medium of jīva, he gets the experiences of external objects in relation to body (due to dharma-bhūta-jñāna, the theory of attributive consciousness of the Self). The body is the product of Pradhāna, Kāla, Vāsanā and adṛṣṭa. The Lord is hence regarded as the fruit of sacrifice, (such as Svarga). But despite these experiences, the Lord is not contaminated by the blemishes etc. of the karmas, just as fire appears to share the characteristics (e.g. length, curvature etc.) of the burning wood, (and yet actually it shares none of them).

(iii) Padaratnāvalī: Nārāyaṇa, the Omniscient Lord enters Jīva who, having renounced everything, retains a formal relation with Jīva. The pious persons (jīvas) know that Nārāyaṇa is the fruit of the righteous acts, and the dispenser of the fruits as well, according to Brahma Śūtra—phalam ata upapatteḥ (3.2.39 acc. to Madhva bhāṣya).

(iv) VC.: God realization is the fruit of karmas dedicated to God. After such dedication of karmas, God, out of his grace, manifests himself. But this degree of god-realization varies directly with the intensity of faith, devotion, knowledge in the dedicated one’s acts to the Lord, even as the fire differs with the quality of the wood like sandal, agaru, khadira. (The first two give out sweet fragrance while the last does not.)

(v) Bālaprabodhini: This All-pervading Lord who enjoys the experience of happiness of intellect—due to contacts of the objects to the body, is also realized to be the fruit of acts (such as sacrifice etc.)


Pṛthu hereby confirms the religious tendencies of his subjects who with a firm resolve worship the Lord (Bhāvāratha Dīpikā and others) but Padaratnāvalī treats this as a compliment to Brāhmaṇas who as teachers and pupils are born from Hari’s mouth, and always conduct their religious duties, and as such, they should be worshipped.


(i) Bhāgavata Candrikā: The verse indicates that Brāhmaṇas and Kṣatriyas should mutually respect and favour each other: ‘May not the votaries of Viṣṇu, the Brāhmaṇa caste which stands resplendent with its forbearance, austerities and such other virtues, be provoked by the Princely houses puffed up with pride in their power and affluence’. Padaratnāvalī endorses the same view.

(ii) VC.: For firm establishment of devotion to god, this verse prohibits the insubordination to Vaiṣṇavas and Brāhmaṇas.


Bhāvāratha Dīpikā: This verse removes the following doubt:

(i) If one always serves Brāhmanas, the performance of sacrifices—offering oblations to gods in sacrificial fires—will be neglected. This, laxity in religious duties will not lead to purity of mind and the final beatitude which depends on it.

(ii) Bhāgavata Candrikā: By service of Brāhmaṇas, the deities to be propitiated by performance of sacrifices are served.

(iii) Padaratnāvalī: The Brāhmaṇa caste is in constant contact with the Lord. By serving them, one obtains serenity of mind and immediately attains to the highest bliss, the final beatitude (Mokṣa). By service of Brāhmaṇas, one gets the fruit of performance of sacrifices, knowledge.

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