The Markandeya Purana

by Frederick Eden Pargiter | 1904 | 247,181 words | ISBN-10: 8171102237

This page relates “the visit to the vindhya mountain” which forms the 3rd chapter of the English translation of the Markandeya-purana: an ancient Sanskrit text dealing with Indian history, philosophy and traditions. It consists of 137 parts narrated by sage (rishi) Markandeya: a well-known character in the ancient Puranas. Chapter 3 is included the section known as “conversation between Markandeya and the birds”.

Canto III - The Visit to the Vindhya Mountain

The Story of the Birds continued—The Birds, when full-grown, were endowed with speech, and explained that ivonder to the Muni Śamīka—They were the four sons of a Ṛṣi Sukṛṣa—Indra appeared to the Ṛṣi in the form of an aged bird, and asked for human flesh—The Ṛṣi ordered his four sons to sacrifice themselves —They refused, and he cursed them to be born in the brute creation, but, moved with compassion at their entreaty, bestowed on them perfect knowledge—Hence they were born as birds.

Mārkaṇḍeya spoke:

Thus he, the most virtuous Muni, O princely brahman, nourished them day by day with food and water, and in safety. After a month they resorted to the sun’s chariot-road, being gazed at by the Munis’ sons, whose eyes were tremulous with curiosity. After seeing the earth, with its cities, and with its ocean and noble rivers, which appeared of the size of a chariot wheel, they returned to the hermitage. The spirited birds were wearied in their souls with their toil: and their knowledge was developed there through their energy.

They all performed the reverential circumambulation around the Ṛṣi, who was expounding the truths of the law in compassion for his disciples, and respectfully saluted his feet and said, “We have been delivered by thee, O Muni! from dreadful death; thou hast given us shelter, food, and water; thou art our father and spiritual guide. Our mother died, when we were still in the womb; nor have we been nourished hy a father: thou, by whom we were preserved when young, hast given us life. Thou, of perfect splendour on the earth, lifting high up the elephant’s bell, didst purge away evil from us who were withering like worms. ‘How may these strength-less ones grow? When shall I see them flying in the sky? When shall I see them alighting on a tree of the earth, settling within the trees? When shall my natural colour be obliterated by the dust which the wind from their wings raises, as they flit about near me?’ Thou, dear Sir, thus thinking, didst nourish us; now we, those very birds, are grown up and have become wise, what ought we to do?”

Having clearly heard this their perfectly articulated speech, the Ṛṣi, surrounded by all his disciples, and accompanied by his son Śṛṅgin, being full of eager curiosity, and covered with horripilation as with a garment, said, “Tell me truly the cause of your power of speech. Through whose curse did you incur this wondrous transformation both in form and speech? Deign here to tell me that.”

The birds spoke:

“There was of yore a most virtuous Muni named Vipulasvat. To him were born two sons Sukṛṣa and Tumburu. We are the four sons of soul-subdued Sukṛṣa; to that Ṛṣi we were ever submissive in reverence, religious practices and faith. As he desired, who was diligent in the performance of austerities, and who constantly kept his organs under control, we at once produced fuel, flowers and everything else, and whatever was needed for sustenance.

“How while he and we thus dwelt in the forest, there came the king of the gods in the appearance of a bird, mighty in size, with broken wings, stricken with age, with eyes of a copperish colour, down-cast in soul; desirous to prove that venerable Ṛṣi, who practised truth, purity, and patience, and who was exceedingly lofty in mind; and for the coming of the curse upon us.

“The bird spoke:

“‘O exalted dvija, deign here to save me, who am consumed with hunger. I seek for food, noble Sir! be thou my incomparable refuge. As I was standing on a summit of the Vindhya Mountains, I fell, Sir, at an exceedingly swift blast sent by the wings of a bird. So there I lay on the ground, lost in unconsciousness, without memory, for seven days; with the eighth day I regained consciousness. How fully conscious pressed by hunger, I have come for help to thee; I am seeking for food, deprived of all pleasure, and with a mind in pain. Therefore turn, pure-minded sage, thy steadfast mind to my rescue; give me, O Brahmarshi, food suitable to support my life.’

“He, thus invoked, answered him, Indra in hird-like shape, ‘I will give thee the food thou desirest for the support of thy life.’ Thus having spoken, that best of dvijas further asked him, ‘What food shall I prepare for thy use?’ and he replied, ‘My chiefest delight is in human flesh.’

“The Ṛṣi spoke:

“‘Thy childhood is past; thy youth, too, gone; thou art assuredly in the decline of life, O egg-born. Why art thou most malign-hearted even in old age, thou in whom of all mankind every desire has ceased? What has thy last stage of life to do with human flesh? Assuredly no one is created foremost among evil-beings! Or what need hast thou to address me, being what I am? One should always give when one has promised—such is our professed opinion.’

“Having thus spoken to him, the Brahmarshi resolved that it should be so. Calling us quickly and commending us according to our good qualities, the Muni, agitated at heart, addressed a most severe speech to us all, who were respectfully bowing, full of faith, with hands reverently joined. ‘Ye noble dvijas, whose minds are improved, are bound by obligations equally with me. A glorious progeny has sprung from you, just as ye, O twice-born, have sprung from me. If a father is deemed by you a guru worthy of reverence and most exalted, perform ye then my promise with cheerful mind.’

“Whilst he so spoke we exclaimed respectfully, ‘What thou shalt say, consider that in truth as already accomplished.’

“The Ṛṣi spoke:

“‘Of me has this bird sought protection oppressed with hunger and thirst; wherefore let him be straightway satisfied with your flesh, and let his thirst be quickly assuaged with your blood.

“Then we, afflicted, our terror visible in our trembling, exclaimed, ‘Alas, alas!’ and said, ‘not this deed! How for the sake of another’s body can a wise man destroy or injure his own body? for a son is even as one’s own self. A son pays those debts, indeed, that have been declared due to the pitṛs, the gods, and men; a son does not offer up his body. Therefore we will not do this; we have done as has been done by men of old. While alive one receives good things, and while alive one does holy acts. When one is dead, the body perishes, and there is an end of righteousness, &c. Men skilled in holy law have declared that one ought by all means to preserve one’s self.’

“Having heard us speak thus, the Muni, burning as it were with anger, again addressed us, scorching us, as it were, with his eyes. ‘Since ye will not perform this my plighted word for me, therefore, blasted by my curse, ye shall be born among the brute creation!’

“Having thus addressed us, he next said to that bird, ‘When I have performed for myself the final sacrifice, and my obsequies, according to the Śāstras, do thou unhesitatingly eat me here, (O best of dvijas): this my body I here grant thee for food. The brahmanhood of a brahman is deemed such, so far indeed as he maintains his truthfulness, O chief of the feathered race. Not by sacrifices accompanied with presents, nor by any other act, do brahmans acquire such great virtue as by the of truth.’

“Having thus heard the Ṛṣi’s speech, īndra, in bird-like form, his soul filled with astonishment, then replied to the Muni, ‘Applying thyself to deep meditation, O lord of brahmans, quit this thy body; for living thing I never eat, O lord of brahmans.’

“Having heard this his speech, the Muni concentrated himself in deep meditation. Perceiving that his fixed resolution, Indra, further, resuming his own form said, ‘ Ho! princely brahman, understand with thy understanding what is to be understood, O man of understanding! To prove thee have I thus transgressed, O sinless one! Pardon me then, O pure-minded one: and what wish is there of thine that may he granted? Pleased most highly am I with thee, for maintaining thy true word. Henceforth, knowledge like Indra’s shall be revealed to thee, and no obstacle shall withstand thee in austerities and holy law.’

“But when Indra after speaking thus had departed, we prostrate on our faces thus implored our father, the renowned Muni, who was filled with anger. ‘Dear father, high-minded, deign to pardon us miserable ones who dread death; for life is dear to us. In an aggregate of skin bones and flesh, filled with pus and blood, wherein one should take no delight, therein do we find this delight. Hear too, Sir, how people are beguiled when overcome by those powerful enemies, their faults, love, anger and so forth. Great is the fortress which has Wisdom for its rampart, the bones for its pillars, the skin for its walls and banks, the flesh and blood for its plaster. Nine gates it has; it is capable of great effort; it is enclosed on all sides with sinews; and there the Sentient Soul[1] sits firm as king. He has two rival ministers, the Intelligence[2] and the Under standby[3]; those two strive to destroy each other as foes. Pour enemies desire the destruction of that king, Desire,[4] Anger, and Covetousness; and Folly[5] is the other enemy. But when that king closes those gates and stands firm, then he becomes indeed both happily strong and free from alarm; he displays his affections; he is not overcome by his enemies. But when he leaves all the gates open, then the enemy named Passion[6] assails the gates of the eyes, etc. Gaining an entrance by the five gates, he penetrates everywhere and spreads widely: then indeed enter, following on his track, the three other terrible enemies. That very enemy, Passion, having entered there, forms a close union with the Understanding, together with the other gates which are known as the organs. He, difficult to be approached, having reduced into subjection the organs and the Understanding, and having reduced into subjection the gates, then destroys the rampart. The Intelligence, seeing the Understanding the dependent of that enemy, perishes forthwith. And there, deprived of his ministers and abandoned by his subjects, the king, his straṭegetical points gained by the enemies, perishes. Even so Passion, Folly, Covetousness and Anger prevail, evil in their nature, wrecking the memory of mankind. From Passion springs Anger; from Anger is born Covetousness; from Covetousness arises Folly; from Folly errors of memory; from loss of memory loss of the intellect; through loss of the intellect man perishes. Shew favour, O thou most virtuous! to us who have thus lost our intellects, who are compliant to Passion and Covetousness, and who covet life. And let not this curse take effect, which thou hast pronounced, Sir! Let us not tread the miserable path of darkness, O best of Munis!’

“The Ṛṣi spoke:

“‘What I have uttered, will never become false; my voice has not spoken untruth hitherto, O sons! Fate is here supreme, I think. Fie on worthless manhood, whereby I have been thoughtlessly forced to do a deed that ought not to be done! And since I am besought reverently by you, therefore, when endowed with the nature of brutes, ye shall obtain the highest knowledge. And ye, having your paths illuminated by knowledge, with the stains of pain removed, free from doubt, shall through my favour gain the highest perfection.’

“Thus, Sir, we were cursed of old by our father through the power of destiny; hence we have descended to a lower grade of created beings for a long time; and we were born on the field of battle; we were nourished by thee: thus have we acquired the nature of birds, O brāhman. There is no man in this world who is not bound by fate.”

Mārkaṇḍeya spoke:

Having heard this their speech, the venerable and eminent Muni Śamīkā answered those dvijas who stood near him.

“Even before did I make this remark in your presence, ‘These are not ordinary birds; these must be some brāhmans, who even in the superhuman battle escaped destruction.’”

Then they, permitted by that affectionate high-souled Muni, went to the Vindhya, the goodliest of mountains, clad with trees and creepers. Hitherto have the righteous birds remained on that mountain, engaged in austerities and the study of the Vedas, and resolute in meditation. Thus those Muni’s sons gained the hospitality of the noble Muni, acquired the shape of birds, and are dwelling on the Vindhya range, in a cave of the noble mountain, where the water is very sacred, with their minds subdued.

Footnotes and references:




Buddhi, perceptive faculty.


Manas, cognitive faculty.


Kāma, love, desire, affection.


Moha, folly, infatuation.


Rāga, passion, emotion; used as equivalent to Kāma.

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