The Bhagavata Purana

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

This page describes The Story of King Harishcandra which is chapter 7 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 seventh chapter of the Ninth Skandha of the Bhagavatapurana.

Chapter 7 - The Story of King Hariścandra

[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]


This chapter deals with the following generations of Kings of the Solar race:

Māndhātṛ (mentioned in the last ch.)—>Purukutsa—>Trasaddasyu II—> Anaraṇya—>Haryaśva—>Aruṇa—>Tribandhana—>Satyavrata alias Triśaṅku—>Hariścandra—>Rohita.

This line is confirmed in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa 4.3.

The rivalry between Vasiṣṭhas and Viśvāmitras is as old as the Ṛgveda. Here the story is based on the famous Śunaḥśepa legend in the Aitareya Brāhmaṇa. The way in which this Hariścandra treated Varuṇa is different from that of the Hariścandra who sold himself to keep his promise to Viśvāmitra. Two contradictory legends are grafted on the same Hariścandra! The Mahābhārata and Viṣṇu Purāṇa corroborate the ‘Triśaṅku’ legend!

Śrī Śuka said:

1. The celebrated Ambarīṣa, who was the most excellent son of Māndhātṛ, was adopted as his??n [son?] by his grandfather (Yuvanāśva). His (Ambarīṣa’s) son was Yauvanāśva whose son was Hārīta. These are the three important members (and the first three branches of the Māndhātṛ family).

2. Narmadā (a Nāga princess) was given by her Nāga brothers to Purukutsa (the eldest son of Māndhātṛ). As directed by the serpent-King (Vāsuki), she took him (Purukutsa) to the nether-world called Rasātala.

3. Infused with the spiritual energy of god Viṣṇu, Purukutsa killed Gandharvas who deserved to be slain. He received a boon from the Nāgas that those who remember this story (of emancipation of Nāgas from Gandharvas) would be immune from the fear of serpents.

4. Purukutsa’s son was Trasaddasyu (the second[1]) who was the father of Anaraṇya. His son was Haryaśva whose son was Aruṇa. Aruṇa’s son was Tribandhana.

5-6. Tribandhana’s son Satyavrata became celebrated as Triśaṅku.[2] He was reduced to the status of a Cāṇḍāla by the curse of his father, but by dint of the spiritual power of Viśvāmitra, he ascended heaven along with his (physical) body, where he is still seen in the sky. When he was made to fall with his head downward by gods, he (Viśvāmitra) stopped him in the mid-air by the spiritual force (of Viśvāmitra).

7. Triśaṅku’s son was Hariścandra on account of whom[3] a continuous fight lasting for many years took place between Vasiṣṭha and Viśvāmitra in the form of birds (viz. a crane (āḍī, Viśvāmitra) and a heron (Vasiṣṭha).

8. He (Hariścandra) being issueless became dejected in mind. On the advice of Nārada, he resorted to god Varuṇa with the request, “Oh Varuṇa, Bless me with a son.

9. “If he grows to be a warrior, I shall worship you by sacrificing him to you”. ‘Be it so’, replied Varuṇa in granting him the boon. And a son called Rohita was born to him, through the grace of Varuṇa.

10.Varuṇa demanded, “Now a son is born to you, worship me by sacrificing that child”. Hariścandra replied, “When a (prospective) victim crosses the first ten days of his life, it becomes fit for sacrificial purpose.”

11.When the time limit of ten days was over, Varuṇa arrived and asked the king to worship him (with that child). Hariścandra replied, “It is after dentition that an animal becomes fit for sacrifice.”

12.“(After the dentition of the child, Varuṇa appeared again and) said, “Now that the teeth have appeared, do you worship me with the child?” “But the victim will be fit for sacrifice when its teeth have fallen.”

13.(Varuṇa appeared again and (demanded, “The teeth of the sacrificial animal have fallen, now worship (me with him)”. “But a victim becomes pure when its teeth grow again.” replied Hariścandra.

14.“Now that (the teeth) have grown again, sacrifice it now to me”, said Varuṇa. To him replied Hariścandra, “Oh King! When a Kṣatriya victim is (of the age of) wearing an armour, he is regarded as a pure animal fit for sacrifice.”

15.In this way due to affection for his son and with his mind overpowered with (paternal) love, he went on deceiving by postponements (of sacrifice), and the god waited.

16. Rohita who, by then, came to know what (type of) act his father intended to do, and desirous of saving his life, escaped to the forest with a bow in hand.

17. Having come to learn that his father is possessed by Varuṇa and has developed mahodara (a disease called ‘Dropsy’), Rohita was returning to the capital when Indra forbade him to do so (lest he should be sacrificed).

18. Indra advised Rohita to travel all over the earth, as visiting the holy places and ablutions in sacred waters are meritorious, and Rohita stayed in the forest that year.

19. Assuming the form of an old Brāhmaṇa, Indra visited him in the second, third, fourth and fifth year and tendered him the same advice.

20. Having wandered in the forest for the sixth year, Rohita returned to his capital (and on way) purchased the middle son (the second son by name Śunaḥśepa) from Ajīgarta (of the Bhṛgu clan).

21-23. Handing over Śunaḥśepa as a sacrificial animal to his father, Rohita bowed down to him. King Hariścandra of great glory, worshipped Varuṇa and other gods with human sacrifice and became free from dropsy, and his stories came to be sung in the assemblies of the great. In that sacrifice Viśvāmitra was the high priest (hotṛ), the self-controlled (or one who has realized the self), Jamadagni officiated as adhvaryu, Vasiṣṭha became the Brahmā, and the sage Ayāsya sang the Sāman hymns. Being pleased with him, Indra gifted to him a gold chariot.

24-25(A). The greatness of Śunaḥśepa will be recounted later on (in ch. 16). Being highly pleased to notice the resoluteness deriving its strength from firmness in truth of both the king and the queen, he (Viśvāmitra) imparted to them the unobstructed knowledge of the ultimate truth.

25(B)-27[4]. (In meditation) fusing his mind (the root-cause of Saṃsāra[5]) into the earth (which is another designation for food which constitutes and hence modifies the mind[6]), the earth into water, water into fire, fire into the air, the air into ether or space, and that into the Tāmasic aspect of Ego (which is the source of all elements), the Tāmasic ego into the mahat (the principle of cosmic intelligence), but of the intellectual and objective aspects of the Ātman, he contemplated the intellectual or knowledge aspect into the Mahat ignoring the objective aspect, and thereby burnt down completely the Nescience (that obscured the soul). Through his intelligent consciousness of the absolute bliss of Nirvāṇa, he transcended that aspect also, and completely severed off the bondage (such as identification of the soul with the body), and stood in his own essential nature which is beyond the range of description, and abstract reasoning.

Footnotes and references:


trasad-dasyu’ is the name of Māndhātṛ also. Vide supra. 9.6.33


Bhāvāratha Dīpikā explains: He is called Triśaṅku—one in whom are embedded three darts in the form of three offences, viz. abduction of a Brāhmaṇa girl from her marriage pandal, killing the cow of his preceptor Vasiṣṭha, eating meat before its consecration with water. He quotes a verse from the Harivaṃśa enumerating these transgressions:

pituṣ cā'paritoṣeṇa gururdogdhrīvadhena ca /
aprokṣitopayogācca trividhas te vyatikramaḥ //


This refers to the persecution of Hariścandra by the sage Viśvāmitra who deprived Hariścandra of everything as a sacrificial fee for conducting a Rājasūya sacrifice. When Vasiṣṭha learnt of this, he cursed Viśvāmitra to be a crane (āḍi) while Viśvāmitra retaliated by imprecating him to be a heron (baka). They fought for yean in these forms—Bhāvāratha Dīpikā


The gists of the explanations of different commentators are as follows:

(I) Bhāgavata Candrikā: Hariścandra in his meditation identified the mind with the earth and the earth with water... so on up to Tāmasic Ego into Pradhāna which contains Mahat in itself. Having contemplated the Intelligent principle in it (i.e. by contemplating the pratyagātman as being characterised by devotion-cum-knowledge—upāsanātmaka-vidyā-viśiṣṭam pratyagātmānam anusandhāya ityarthaḥ /), and burning down by that knowledge the wrong notions of the identification of the body with the soul, absolute independence of ātman (svatantrātmā'bhimāna-rūpam), and discarding it by realising the limitations of that aspect of devotion-cum-knowledge, and becoming free from the bondage of karmas (merits and sins), he realised his blissful nature of the soul which is beyond description (either as a man or a god or a sub-human being etc. or in usual terms of name and form), stayed in his own essential nature (transcend sin etc.).

(II) Padaratnāvalī: Agreeing with Bhāvāratha Dīpikā about the procedure of merging of the mind into the earth etc. upto Mahal which is presided over by the four- faced god Brahmā, wherein lies the Intelligent principle of which the presiding deity is Sarasvatī; contemplating over this and destroying all the bondages, he stayed in his natural stage of knowledge and blissfulness which is beyond my i.e. human power of description or reasoning capacity.

(III) Siddhāntapradīpa: The fickleness of the mind depends on the food eaten. Thus the mind being identical with the food which grows out of the earth and hence one with it for the control of the mind, he meditated it as identical with the earth. This procedure goes upto Mahadātman: but Siddhāntapradīpa states mahadātman means Pradhāna which is the soul or cause of Mahat. Jñānakalā=Buddhi, ‘Intelligence’. Though it is jaḍa (unconscious), it is associated with the knower i.e. Jīva and hence called Jñānakalā. Contemplating over the distinction between jīvātman and buddhi and burning down (dispelling) the ignorance i.e. the false identification of the soul with body, mind, intelligence etc., and thus discarding intelligence and distinguishing Pradhāna from the self, he became liberated from bondage of karmas.

(IV) Bhaktamanorañjanī takes jñānakalā as the power of knowledge of jīva (jñāna- śabda-vācya-jīvasya vidyā-śakti / Hence—upāsanāviśiṣṭa-pratyagātma.


mano-mūlo hi saṃsāraḥ! Śruti text quoted by Bhāvāratha Dīpikā and Anvitārthaprakāśikā.


anna-mayāṃ he saumya manaḥ!—Chāndogya up. 6.6.5 6.7.6.—quoted by commentators.

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