The Bhagavata Purana

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

This page describes Prithu’s penance and ascension to Heaven which is chapter 23 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-third chapter of the Fourth Skandha of the Bhagavatapurana.

Chapter 23 - Pṛthu’s penance and ascension to Heaven

Maitreya said:

1-3. The self-controlled son of Vena, (Pṛthu), the protector of subjects, had made the arrangement of fostering his creation, (viz. by founding of agriculture, and of human habitation like cities, villages etc.). He provided for the livelihood of the mobile and immobile creatures. He supported the practice of religion (dharma) by pious people. He carried out the mission of the Lord for which he was created in this world. One day, finding himself to have grown very old, he entrusted to his sons his daugther-like earth which was as if crying due to separation from him. Unattended by any one (servant), he retired to the penance-forest along with his queen while the subjects became depressed in mind and disspirited.

4. Without any interruption in the observance of rules of self-discipline, there too he began to practice a course of austere penance, highly approved by Vānaprasthas with the same zeal and determination which he showed formerly in the conquest of the world.

5. He lived upon bulbous and ordinary roots and fruits, and occasionally on dry leaves. For some fortnights, he took water only, and thereafter, he subsisted on air (only).

6. In the summer, ṭhe warrior-sage practised pañcāgni sādhana (in which one has to sit in the Sun and in the midst of four burning fires in four directions around). In the rainy season, he exposed himself to the downpour of rain. In the winter he stood immersed in cold water upto the neck and slept on the bare-ground (all through the year).

7. He practised endurance, controlled his speech and sense-organs, he observed celibacy and mastered prāṇāyāma (breath-control). He practised the most austere type of penance with a desire to propitiate Lord Kṛṣṇa.

8. Due to the practice of that austere penance, which gradually reached perfection, his balance of Karmas became exhausted and he became pure in mind. By means of Prāṇāyāma (breath-control), all the six passions were completely subdued and the bondage (of vāsanā) was cut asunder.

9. Pṛthu, that prominent person, worshipped the Supreme Man by that very highest Yoga which venerable Sanatakumāra explained to him as the best path to ātman.

10. As the righteous king was performing the duties sacred to the Lord and was unceasingly exerting himself with faith, he developed complete devotion to the glorious Brahman exclusively.

11. His (Pṛthu’s) mind became purely Sāttvic (without any admixture of other guṇas like rajas and tamas) through adoration and service of the Lord. He attained to knowledge combined with renunciation—knowledge which became sharpened by his devotion which went on increasing continuously through constant remembrance and comprehensive realization of the Lord’s greatness. It is with such knowledge that he tore off the sheath called jīva[1]—the knot of egotism (ahaṃkāra) in the heart—which is the basis of doubts and misapprehensions.

12. When his concept of self-body identification was dispelled and he realized the real nature of his Soul, he became desireless and disinterested even in the mystic yogic powers (like aṇimā, laghimā etc.) that were acquired by him. He gave up the attempt to attain the knowledge wherewith he tore off his sheath (called jīva or egotism which is source of doubt). For so long even a recluse (exerting on the path of Yoga) does not feel devotion and attachment for the stories of Lord Kṛṣṇa, he will not cease to be attracted by the Yogic discipline (and mystic powers attained by Yoga).

13.Thus at the time of the end of his life,[2] the great hero concentrated his mind firmly in the Supreme Soul and stabilising himself in Brahman,[3] he cast off his mortal coil.

14.He closely pressed both his heels on his anus. He slowly forced up his vital airs (from the mūlādhāra cakra).[4] He held vital airs up (progressively) at the navel and then at heart, chest, the throat and the head, i.e. the place between the eyebrows, (i.e. through the following cakras or mystical plexuses: Maṇipūra, manas or Solar plexus, anāhata, viśuddha and ājña).[5]

15-16. By degrees he conducted up his breath upto the crown of his head and made it occupy Brahma-randhra (the aperture in the crown of the head through which the Soul escapes on its leaving the body). Freeing himself from all desires, he merged the wind element in the body with the outer Vāyu element, the earth element (solidity in the body) with the Pṛthvī (earth) element, the vacuum (in the appertures constituting sense-organ) with the cosmic element ākāśa (ether) and the liquid in the body with the element water—each in its own source. (For his own knowledge) he then contemplated the merger of cosmic elements (as follows:)—earth into water, water into fire, fire into wind and wind into the cosmic ākāśa (which is the product of Tāmasa ahaṃkāra—ego of Tāmasa type). This process is called Laya-cintana contemplation of (the happening of) the process of absorption.

17.[6] He absorbed the mind (implying presiding deities as well) into the senses,[7] the senses into the subtle elements from which they severally emerged. These (the ether, the senses and mind merged into subtle elements as described above) he carried higher still and he contemplated the above objects along with ahaṃkāra (I-ness) as merged in the Mahat tattva (the principle of cosmic intelligence).

18.[8] He (Pṛthu) merged the Mahat, the ground of all guṇas (evolutes) into jīva conditioned by Māyā. By the power of his knowledge and renunciation, Pṛthu—still a jīva conditioned by Māyā—became established in the pure Brahmahood and cast off the conditioning Māyā attached to the Self.

19. His wife, the great queen Arcis, though too delicate to touch the bare ground with her feet, followed him to the penance-forest.

20. Though she (queen Arcis). became extremely emaciated due to her intense devotion in participating in the austere observances (such as sleeping on the bare ground) and religious duties of her husband, by rendering personal services to him and by leading the sage’s way of life (such as subsisting on roots, fruits etc.). She did not feel any affliction, as she was satisfied with the loving regard and affectionate touch of her beloved husband’s hand.

21. Having observed that the body of the protector of the earth, her own beloved husband, became completely devoid of consciousness, life etc., the pious lady wept for a while and got it placed on the funeral pyre on the ridge of the mountain.

22. She bathed in the waters of the river, performed the prescribed rites. Having given libations of water to the departed Soul of her husband, the performer of noble deeds, she paid obeisance to the celestial gods who had assembled there to witness her self-immolation, she went round the fire three times and meditating on the feet of her husband, entered the burning funeral pyre.

23. Seeing the chaste lady perform self-immolation after her husband, Pṛthu, the great hero, thousands of goddesses who were competent to confer boons, began to praise her, along with their consorts.

24. They showered flowers on that peak of the mount Mandara. While the celestial trumpets were blowing, they spoke (in praise of her) to each other.

Goddesses said:

25. “Oh! What a blessed wife is this who, with all her heart, served her husband, the king of kings, just as Lakṣmī does to the Lord of Sacrifices (Nārāyaṇa).

26. Following her husband Pṛthu, this chaste lady really proceeds to regions higher than ours. Look! Arcis is going up beyond us, by virtue of her noble deed incomprehensible to the unrighteous.

27. What is verily difficult to be achieved by those mortals who, though the span of their life on the earth is uncertain, attain to spiritual knowledge (of actionlessness) leading to the region of the Lord (Liberation).

28. He is definitely deceived—a veritable enemy of his own Self who after great difficulty attains to the life as a human being, capable of leading to Liberation (Mokṣa), is attached to objects of pleasure.”

Maitreya said:

29. While the heavenly damsels (goddesses) were praising her, Arcis (the queen of Pṛthu) reached the region of her husband—the region which Pṛthu (the son of Vena) whose mind was concentrated on Lord Viṣṇu (Acyuta) and who was the foremost amongst those who realized the Soul, attained.

30. Of such glory and prowess was king Pṛthu, the Supreme-most mighty monarch. I have described to you the history of the king of noble deeds.

31. He who, with faithful and attentive mind, reads, listens to or recounts this extremely holy life of Pṛthu, would attain to the region of Pṛthu.

32. By reading this, a Brāhmaṇa would become preeminent in Brahmanic lore, a Kṣattriya, the ruler of the world, a Vaiśya, the leader of his guild and a Śūdra (listening to it) would attain the most preeminent position (like a man of Sūta community).

33-34. After hearing this account thrice with faith and reverence, a man or a woman, if devoid of issue, becomes blessed with the best progeny, and if penniless, he/she becomes the wealthiest; An obscure person, attains good renown; a dull- witted one would become a scholar; this is a means of securing prosperity to men, averting evils and inauspiciousness.

35. It blesses with wealth, glory, longevity, heavenly blessings and removes the impurities of the Kali-age. Those who aspire after full achievement of the four puruṣārthas (goals of life) viz. Dharma (righteousness), Artha (wealth,) Kāma (enjoyment of life) and Mokṣa (Liberation), should regularly and with faith listen to this story of Pṛthu which is the best means of securing puruṣārthas.

36. A king intending to undertake the conquest of the world starts his expedition after listening to this, the kings against whom he marches will receive him with tributes as was done to Pṛthu.

37. Even though one gets auspicious fruits mentioned above from listening to Pṛthu’s life, one who gives up all desires and bears pure, motiveless devotions to the Lord, should listen, narrate and read this holy life of Pṛthu, the son of Vena.

38. Oh Vidura (the son of Vicitravīrya), the story of Pṛthu which reveals the greatness of the Venerable Lord has been narrated to you. A mortal who devotes his mind to it, attains to the goal achieved by Pṛthu.

39. A person who devoutly listens to or narrates the story of Pṛthu everyday, becomes free from attachment and develops intense love and devotion to the Lord whose feet serve as a boat to cross the sea of worldly existence (saṃsāra).

Footnotes and references:


Jīvakośa—the subtle body (liṅga śarīra) with its internal and external organ—Padaratnāvalī

VC.: To Pṛthu, whose mind became purely Sāttvic by service of the Lord, the knowledge of the science of Brahman (Brahma vidyā) combined with non-attachment, manifested itself. Real votaries of God are so much attracted by the sweetness of Bhakti that they discard Brahma vidyā which automatically comes to them, and they destroy without any effort their subtle body (liṅga deha) through their intense devotion. It was the impatience of Pṛthu to go to Lord’s region to serve him directly that he accepted Brahma vidyā to destroy his upādhi (limiting condition) of jīva kośa.


kāle—When the fund of his karmasPrārabdha—was exhausted—Bhāgavata Candrikā, Padaratnāvalī


Brahmabhūtaḥ [Brahmabhūta]—(i) He became like Brahman by the manifestation of eight attributes—Bhāgavata Candrikā

(ii) He realised that he depended on Braḥman—Padaratnāvalī


A mystical plexus situated between the anus and the organ of generation.


For details about these cakras vide: Sir John Woodroff—Serpent Power; and Leadbeater—The Chakras.


Padaratnāvalī interprets this according to the general law of merger (laya) viz. the effects are to be absorbed into the cause. Thus the senses are merged into the Taijasa-ahaṃkāra. Its presiding deities in those of the presiding deities of Vaikārika ahaṃkāra and their bodies into the Vaikārika ahaṃkāra. The elements Pṛthvī etc. along with their qualities like smell, touch etc. are absorbed in the Tāmasa ahaṃkāra (bhūtādi). These three types of ahaṃkāras (along with senses etc.) merge into the Mahattattva (Principle of cosmic intelligence). And Rudra, the presiding deity of ahaṃkāra, is absorbed into god Brahmā, who presides over the Mahat.


For the mind is drawn by the senses in the world of varied experiences and hence it is said to be absorbed in them.


Bhāgavata Candrikā: (The last two lines): Pṛthu who was practically free from the effects of the karmas, realised the Supreme Being in himself. By dint of his knowledge and renunciation, he became free from the remaining karmas. He thus became liberated, established in his own essential nature.

Padaratnāvalī refutes the idea of Liberation of advaitins. The process of Pṛthu’s liberation was as follows: Pṛthu merged Brahmā, the presiding deity of the Mahat into Lakṣmī and the principle Mahat into unintelligent Prakṛti. Lakṣmī with Prakṛti was absorbed into Hari. By force of his knowledge and dispassionateness, Pṛthu did this and attained the Sāyujja form of Liberation.

VC.: Pṛthu became a Pārṣaḍa (attendant) of the Lord in Vaikuṇṭha.

Bālaprabodhini: Pṛthu was able to abandon his subtle body (Liṅga-śarīra).

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