The Brahma Purana (abridged)

19,470 words

The Brahma Purana (Brahma Purāņa) is one of the major eighteen Mahapuranas, a genre of Hindu religious texts. It is divided into two parts: 1) the Purvabhaga and 2) the Uttarabhaga. The first part narrates the story behind the creation of the cosmos, details the life and deeds of Rama and Krishna. The second part contains the details about t...

Trishanku’s son was Harishchandra and from Harishchandra was descended a king named Bahu. Bahu devoted too much to pleasurable pursuits. The upshot of this was that the defect of the kingdom was not properly taken care of. Enemy kings seized this opportunity to attack Bahu’s kingdom. They drove Bahnu out and Bahu went off to the forest with his wife Yadavi.

The enemy kings who dislodged Bahu were led by the Haihaya and Talajangha kings. They were aided by the Shakas, Yavanas, Paradas, Kambojas and Pahlavas.

King Bahu died in the forest. His wife Yadavi desired to die on her husband’s funeral pyre. But since Yadavi was pregnant at the time, the sage Ourva persuaded her that such an act would be a sin. He brought Yadavi to his own hermitage and began to take care of her.

Bahu had also had a second wife and she had once tried to poison Yadavi. The poison (gara) had however done Yadavi no harm and emerged when the baby was born. Since the baby was born together with poison, he came to be known as Sagara.

The sage Ourva took care of Sagara’s education. He imparted to Sagara the knowledge of all the shastras and also the usage of weapons. Amongst other things, Sagara acquired the skill of using a divine weapon known as agneyastra.

When he grew up, Sagara attacked the Haihaya kings and defeated them through the use of agneyastra. He then defeated the Shakas, Yavanas, Paradas, Kambojas and Pahlavas and was about to kill them all. But these enemy kings fled to the sage Vashishtha for refuge and Vashishtha persuaded Sagara not to kill his enemies. Instead , the heads of the Shakas were half shaven off. The Yavanas and Kambojas had their heads completely shaven. The Pahlavas were instructed that they would have to keep beards. These enemy kings also lost all right to follow the religion laid down in the Vedas. Amongst the other kings whom Sagara defeated were the Konasarpas, the Mahishakas, the Darvas, the Cholas and the Keralas.

King Sagara had two wives. The first was named Keshini and she was the daughter of the king of Vidarbha. The Brahma Purana does not tell us the name of the second wife, but from the Mahabharata we know that it was Sumati. Keshini and Sumati had no sons. They therefore began to pray to Ourva so that they might have sons.

Ourva was pleased at these prayers and said, both of you wil have sons. But one of you will have a single son and the other will have sixty thousand sons. Tell me, who want what.

Keshini asked for a single son and Sumati asked for sixty thousand sons. In due course, Keshini gave birth to a son named Panchajana. Sumati gave birth to a gourd. Inside the gourd there was a lump of meat. The gourd was placed inside a pot full of clarifed butter (ghrita). And from the lump of meat were born sixty thousand sons.

King Sagara proceeded to conquer the entire earth. As a recognition of this conquest, he initiated an ashvamedha yajna (horse sacrifice). In this ceremony, the sacrifical horse is left free to wander all over the earth. The sixty thousand sons accompanied the horse as its gurads. The horse eventually reached the shores of the ocean that lies towards the south-east. While Sagara’s sons were resting, the horse was stolen. The sons started to look for the horse and began to dig up the sands in their search. In this proces, they came upon the sage Kapila. Kapila had been meditating and his meditation was disturbed by the terrible din that Sagara’s sons made. He gazed at them in fury and all but four of the sons were burnt to ashes. The four sons who were saved were named Varhiketu, Suketu, Dharmaketu and Panchajana.

The Brahma Purana is slightly confused here. Was Panchajana Keshini’ son or Sumati’s son? There is some inconsistency with the account given in the Mahabharata. In the Mahabharata, it is Keshini who gave birth to sixty thousand sons and it is Sumati who had a single on named Asmanja. Also in the Mahabharata, all sixty thousand sons were burnt to ashes.

The Brahma Purana also tells us that the sacrificial horse was obtained by Sagara from the ocean. That is the reason why the ocean is referred to as sagara/

To come back to the account given in the Brahma Purana, Panchajana’s son Amshumana and Amshumana’s son was Dilipa. Dilipa had a son named Bhagiratha. Bhagiratha brought down the river Ganga from heaven to earth and thus redeemed his ancestors who had been burnt to ashes by Kapila. It was because of this that the river Ganga came to be known as Bhagirathi.

From Bhagiratha was descended Raghu. Raghu’s son was Aja. Aja’s son Dasharatha and Dasharatha’s son Rama.

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