Wisdom Library Logo

Canto XLIX - The Course of Creation (continued)

This page relates “the course of creation (continued)” which forms the 49th 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 49 is included the section known as “exposition of the manvantaras”.

Mārkaṇḍeya describes the creation of the primeval human race, and their simple condition and happy life—When they ultimately died out, modern men fell from the shy, and lived in kalpa treesPassionate affection sprung up among them—and covetousness next, which destroyed the trees, and drove them to form communities—Their measures of length are explained—and fortresses, towns, villages and houses described—The Tretā Age began—with the existing rivers and vegetation—and the people lived on the vegetation—They then took private possession of property according to might, and the vegetation perished—Then they supplicated Brahmā, and he created all existing cereals and plants—The seventeen cereals and the fourteen sacrificial plants are specified—Brahmā ordained their means of livelihood, which could be gained only through labour, and their laws, castes, &c.—The spheres assigned to various classes after death are mentioned.

Krauṣṭuki spoke:

Thou hast told me, Sir, of the group of beings in which the stream of life[1] passes downwards; tell me fully, O brāhman, how Brahmā created the human creation, and how he created the classes of men, and how their qualities, O wise Sir; and tell me what business has been assigned to the brāhmans and those other classes severally.

Mārkaṇḍeya spoke:

While Brahmā was first creating and was meditating on truth, he created a thousand pairs of human beings from his mouth, O Muni; when born, they come into being, characterized chiefly by goodness, and self-glorious. He created another thousand pairs from his breast; they were all characterized chiefly by passion, and were fiery and impatient. And he created again another thousand miserable pairs from his thighs;[2] they were known as characterized chiefly by passion and ignorance, and as enviously disposed. And he created another thousand pairs from his feet; they were all characterized chiefly by ignorance, and were unfortunate and little of understanding.

Then those living beings, produced in pairs, were rejoicing together; urged by their mutual distress they hastened to sexual intercourse. Thenceforward pairing originated in this kalpa. Women did not have their courses month by month; hence they did not then bring forth offspring, although they engaged in sexual intercourse. They bring forth just pairs of children once at the close of life. Thenceforward pairing originated in this kalpa. By meditation and thought those human beings give birth to offspring once. Sound and the other objects of sense were pure severally in their five marks.

This was this creation of the human race which the prajāpati formerly produced. Sprung of his lineage they worshipped this world, and they pay homage to rivers, lakes, and seas and the mountains also. During that age those human beings lived indeed feeling little cold or heat. They received delight according to their natural dispositions from the objects of sense, O wise Sir; no opposition, nor enmity, nor envy existed among them. They paid homage to the mountains and the seas; they lived wholly without habitations; their actions were unswayed by love; their minds were always joyful. Neither Piśācas, nor Nāgas, nor Rākṣasas, nor envious men, nor cattle, nor birds, nor crocodiles, nor fish, nor creeping insects, nor egg-born animals hindered them, (for those animals are the offspring of iniquity,) nor roots, nor fruits, nor flowers, nor the seasons, nor the years. Time was always happy; there was neither heat nor cold in excess; as time passed by, they attained wonderful perfection. Moreover they enjoyed satisfaction in the fore-noon and at noon; and again satisfaction came without exertion to those who wished for it, and exertion also sprang up in the mind of those who wished for it. The water was exquisite. Perfection was merry with many a delight for them;[3] and another was produced that conferred every wish. And with bodies uncared for, those human beings had lasting youth. Without resolve they produce offspring in pairs; alike is their birth and form, and together also they die. Devoid of desire and hatred they lived to each other. All were equal in form and length of life, without inferiority or superiority. They live their measure of life, four thousand human years; nor have they misfortunes through affliction. Everywhere moreover the earth was entirely blessed with good fortune.

As the people died in the course of time, so their prosperity gradually perished everywhere; and when it had altogether perished, men fell down from the sky. Those kalpa trees were commonly produced which are called houses; and they brought forth every kind of enjoyment to those people. At the beginning of the Tretā age the people got their subsistence from those trees. Afterwards in the course of time passionate affection[4] sprung up suddenly among them. By reason of the occurrence of passionate affection menstruation occurred month by month, and conception frequently took place.

Then those trees were called houses[5] by them. But branches certainly fall from other trees, O brāhman; and they yield clothing and ornaments out of their fruits. In the separate cavities of the same fruit of those trees was produced very strong honey, which excelled in smell, colour and taste, and which no bee had made; on that they subsisted at the beginning of the Tretā age.

Afterwards in course of time those people grew covetous besides; their minds being filled with selfishness they fenced the trees[6] round; and those trees perished by reason of that wrong conduct on their part. Strife sprang up in consequence; their faces felt cold and heat and hunger. Then for the sake of combination and resistance they made towns at first; and they resort to fortresses in inaccessible deserts and wastes, in mountains and caves; also they industriously constructed with their own fingers an artificial fort on trees, on mountains and in water, and they first made measures intended for measurement.

A minute atom, a para sūkṣma, the mote in a sunbeam,[7] the dust of the earth, and the point of a hair, and a young louse,[8] and a louse,[9] and the body of a barley-corn;[10] men say each of those things is eight times the size of the preceding thing.[11] Eight barley-corns equal an angola or finger-breadth;[12] six finger-breadths are a pada,[13] and twice that is known as a span;[14] and two spans make a cubit measured with the fingers closed in at the root of the thumb;[15] four cubits make a bow, a pole,[16] and equal two nāḍikās; two thousand bows make a gavyūti;[17] and four times that are declared by the wise to be a yojana;[18] this is the utmost measure for purposes of calculation.

Now of the four kinds of fortresses three occur naturally; the fourth kind of fortress is artificial. Now those men constructed it laboriously;[19] and they also constructed, O brāhman,[20] the pura,[21] and the kheṭaka, the droṇīmukha[22] likewise,[23] and śākhā-nagarakas and the three kinds of karvaṭakas,[24] and the grāmas together with the arrangement of the ghoṣas,[25] and the separate habitations therein; and they built lofty ramparts surrounded on all sides with fosses. They made the pura, or town, extend for a quarter of a yojana in every direction, and slope down to water on the east; they made it auspicious and peopled it with colonies from noble families.[26] And with a half of it they laid out the kheṭa,[27] and with a quarter of it the karvaṭa;[28] and then the inferior portion which is made with the remaining quarter is called the droṇīmukha.[29] A town destitnte of ramparts and fosses[30] is called a varmavat; and a śākhā-nagaraka[31] is another kind of town which possesses ministers and feudatory princes. Moreover, a dwelling place[32] which abounds with śūdras and water,[33] where the cultivators are independently prosperous,[34] and which is situated on land that can he used for fields, is called a grāma.[35] The dwelling-place, which men make, different from cities and other abodes, for the sake of their business, is to be known as a vasati by modern men.[36] The grāma which springs up on the land of another grāma, and thrives, which has no fields of its own, which is for the most part vicious, and which is the resort of a king’s favourites, is called an ākrimī.[37] And a collection of cattle and herdsmen, who have brought their utensils there on carts, where there is no barter, is called a ghoṣa;[38] its situation on the land may be wherever they please.

Those people thus made towns and other abodes for themselves to dwell in; they made houses for the several couples to dwell in. As trees were their first kind of houses, so, with a remembrance of all that, those people built their houses. As some branches of a tree go in one direction, and others go in another direction, and some rise upwards and some bend downwards, even so they fashioned the branches in their houses. Those branches, which were the branches of the kalpa trees at first, O brāhman, became rooms in the houses in consequence among those people.

Those people ruined the trees by their strife, and afterwards pondered[39] on their means of livelihood. When the kalpa trees had utterly perished along with the honey, those people were distressed by their afflictions, and suffered from thirst and hunger. Then became manifest their perfection at the beginning of the Tretā age. For their other business was spontaneously accomplished;[40] they had rain according to their desire. The waters of their rain are the rivers[41] which flow here. By the obstruction of the rain[42] the rivers, which[43] existed on the earth scanty of water before that, became[44] deep flowing channels.

And then by their union with the earth plants came into existence, of fourteen kinds, both those which grow on uncultivated soil, and those which grow unsown, both cultivated and wild. And trees and shrubs bearing flowers and fruit in their seasons were produced. This manifestation of vegetation appeared first in the Tretā age. On that vegetation the people subsist in the Tretā age, O Muni. And then lapsing into novel passion and covetousness those people next took possession of rivers and fields, mountains, and trees, shrubs and plants in their own right even according to might. Through that their sin those plants perished before their very eyes, and the earth then devoured those plants at once, O most wise brāhman,[45] Moreover when that vegetation had perished, those people fell into still further confusion.

Suffering from hunger, they resorted to Brahmā, the most high, as their preserver. And he, the mighty lord, knowing full well then that the earth had swallowed it up,[46] milked her treating mount Meru as her calf.[47] This earth-cow was then milked by him, the cereals came into existence on the face of the earth, the seeds, the cultivated and wild plants besides, which are annuals,[48] known as comprising seventeen classes according to tradition. The various kinds of both rice and barley, wheat, aṇu grain,[49] sesamum, priyaṅgu,[50] udāra,[51] koradūṣa,[52] and cīnaka,[53] māṣa,[54] green gram,[55] and masūra,[56] the finest pulse,[57] and kulatthaka,[58] āḍhaka pulse,[59] and chick-pea[60] and hemp[61] are known as the seventeen classes. These are the olden kinds of cultivated plants.

And there are fourteen kinds of plants for use in sacrifices, both cultivated and wild, viz., the various kinds of both rice and barley, wheat, aṇu grain, sesamum, and seventh[62] among them priyaṅgu, and eighth kulatthaka, and śyāmāka[63] grain, wild rice, wild sesamum,[64] and gavedhuka[65] grass, kuruvinda[66] grass, markaṭaka,[67] and veṇu-gradha;[68] and these indeed are traditionally known as the fourteen cultivated and wild plants for use in sacrifices. When these plants are abandoned,[69] they do not spring forth again.

Thereupon the adorable self-existent Brahmā devised means of livelihood for the advancement of those people, and the perfection of the hands which results from work. Thenceforward plants were produced, which must ripen after ploughing. But when their livelihood was thoroughly ordained, the lord himself next established bounds for them according to

justice and according to their qualities; also the laws of the castes and of the four periods of a brāhman’s life, and of the worlds[70] with all their castes which duly maintain righteousness and wealth, O most righteous Muni.

Prājāpatya[71] is traditionally declared to he the sphere assigned after death to brāhmans who perform the ceremonies. Aindra[72] is the sphere of kṣatriyas who flee not in battle. Māruta[73] is the sphere of vaiśyas who observe their own proper laws. Gāndharva[74] is the sphere of the various classes of śūdras who perform menial service. The sphere of those eighty-eight thousand ṛṣis who live in perpetual chastity has been traditionally declared to be that of the inhabitants of Jupiter. The sphere of the Seven Ṛṣis[75] has been traditionally declared to be that of hermits. Prājāpatya[76] is the sphere of householders; the abode of Brahmā is for those men who have abandoned all worldly concerns; the world of immortality is for yogis—such is the ordinance of the various spheres assigned after death.


Footnotes and references:


Or, current of nutriement.


For marutaḥ read ūrutaḥ.


The text siddhir nāmnāvayo na sā seems incorrect; instead of it, another MS. reads siddhir nānārasollasā, which I have adopted.




Does this mean the trees were called houses (gṛha) from the offspring (garbha) begotten there?


For vṛkṣās read vṛkṣāṃs ?


For traṣa-reṇur read trasa-reṇur.


For niṣkām read likṣā.


For yūkām read yūkā.




For ekādaśa-guṇaṃ teṣām another MS. reads kramād aṣṭa-guṇānyāhur, which is much better.


For yava-madhyam another MS. reads yavānyaṣṭau.


A foot’s breadth?


For vitasti-dviguṇam read vitastir dviguṇam?


For -veṣṭanam read -veṣṭanaḥ ? This relation indicates a long arm, or small hands and feet. An average cubit so measured would be equal to about 15 inches.




A stretch of pasture-ground. Taking the cubit at 15 inches, this length would be 10.000 feet, or about 1 910 mile.


Taking the cubit at 15 inches, the yojana equals 40,000 feet, or about 7½ miles.


The text tacca kuryāt satastu te appears corrupt. A better reading is taccakrur yatnatas tu te from a MS. in the Sanskrit College Library.


For dvijaḥ read dvija? The vocative seems preferable as Mārkaṇḍeya is relating what happened in a previous age, and the work described would not fall to a brāhman’s duty. If dvijaḥ be retained, the word kuryāt must be understood.


This is explained in verse 44.


These two words are explained in verse 45.


For tadva read tadvad.


These two words are not in the dictionary; they are explained in verses 45 and 46. For karvaṭakam trayī read karvaṭaka-trayīm?


Sanghoṣa is not in the dictionary. For gramā-sanghoṣa-vinyāsaṃ read grāmam saghoṣa-vinyāsaṃ? Grāma is explained in verse 47, and ghoṣa in verse 50.




Prof. Sir M. Monier-Williams explains kheṭa, “a village, the residence of peasants and farmers; a small town, half a pura”; but here it apparently means a particular portion of the pura; does it mean the “inhabited or residential area”?


This word is said to mean “a village, market-town, the capital of a district,” but here it denotes a particular portion of the pura; does it mean the bazār or the “area occupied with the market and shops”?


This word said to mean “the capital of a district, the chief of 400 villages,” but here it evidently refers to the lowest part of the pura; does it mean the “area inhabited by the labouring population or the lowest classes”?


For prākāram parikhā-hīnam read prākām-parikhā-hīnam? Or, is the verse intended to say that a town surrounded with a rampart but without a fosse is a varma-vat? This would agree better with the meaning of varma-vat. Prof. Sir M. Monier-Williams explains it as “an unfortified (?) town.”


This word is said to mean, “a ‘branch-town,’ a suburb,” but here is sees to mean a ‘town with branches,’ a “capital town” or “metropolis.”


Vasati; see verse 48.


For śūdra-jala-prāyāḥ read śūdra-jala-prāyā?


For -kṛṣībalāḥ read -kṛṣībalī?


The village. The word thus denotes a local area, and includes both the dwellings and the fields. It seems to designate specially the large and prosperous villages.


The word is explained in the dictionary as “a dwelling-place, dwelling-house, abode, residence,” but here it is explained to be a “mart,” apparently either permanent or temporary. It corresponds to the modem (Persian) word gañj, or the vernacular word hāṭ (Sanskrit haṭṭa), in Bengal. The word vasati appears as basti in the modern vernaculars, and means in Bengal “the populated part of a village,” and “the part of a town occupied by the common bamboo-built houses.”The verse seems to indicate that the word vasati was either newly-coined, or had recently acquired (or the author wished it to acquire) a special meaning. The complete change from this meaning to that of the modern basti, which rather excludes any notion of trade, is note-worthy.


Or akrimī. These words are not in the dictionary. If we might read ā-kramī instead, the word would be rather appropriate.


This word is said to mean “a station of herdsmen.” It appears to denote a temporary dwelling only, resorted to for purposes of pasturage.


For acintayat read acintayan ?


For vārttā-sva-sādhitā read vārttā sva-sādhitā ?


Nimna-gata neut=nimna-gā ? This meaning is not in the dictionary.


For vṛṣṭyāvaruddhair read vṛṣṭyavarodhair ?


Nimnagāḥ ye. If this is correct, we must take nimna-ga masc. as “a river,” a meaning not given in the dictionary; if we read nimna-gāḥ fem as usual, we must read yāḥ for ye.


For abhavat read abhavan ?


For dvijaḥ read dvija?


Grasta. The oontext seems to require this word to be taken in an active sense.


The calf is tied near the cow, while she is being milked, as otherwise, it is said, she will not let her milk flow.




Panicum miliaceum, the modern chinā, Roxb. p. 104. It is a cultivated cereal, grown on an elevated, light, rich soil, immediately after the rains.


See note ** p. 165.


The Dictionary says this is a kind of grain with long stalks, but I cannot trace it out in Roxburgh.


Paspalum scrobiculatum, the modern kodo, Roxb. p. 93. He says “The seed is an article of diet with the Hindoos, particularly with those who inhabit the mountains and most barren parts of the country, for it is in such countries only where it is cultivated, it being an unprofitable crop, and not sown where others more beneficial will thrive. I have eaten of the boiled grain, and think it as palatable as rice.”


This is said to be Panicum miliaceum which is already mentioned; the word means fennel also, but that is inappropriate. I do not find any other grain of this name.


See note § p. 84.


Mudga; See note §§ p. 84.


See note ††† p. 165.


Niṣpāva; see note ‖ p. 86.


See note ‖ p. 84.


The dictionary does not give āḍhaka, masc. or fern., as the name of any plant; but āḍhakī, fem., is said to mean a kind of pulse, Cajanus indicus, Spreng. I do not find it in Eoxb., but Oliver calls the Pigeon Pea Cajanus.


For canakāś read caṇakāś. See note ** p. 84.


Śaṇa. For gaṇāḥ read śaṇāḥ, as in several MSS.


The reckoning seems wrong; priyaṅgu is the sixth and kulatthaka the seventh.


See note * p. 165.


Yattila is not in the dictionary. For yattilā read jartilāḥ.


Cox(?)barbata, Eoxb. p. 649; it is a coarse grass, and cattle do not eat it. It is also said to mean Hedysarum lagopodioides, which is mentioned by Roxburgh (p. 573), but of which I find no description in his work.


Cyperus rotundus, Roxb. p. 66; a common grass, the roots of which dried and powdered are used as a perfume.


This has been mentioned in Canto XXXII, verse 11, and is described in the dictionary as “a kind of wild panic; a species of grain.” I find that Carpopogon pruriens is assigned by Roxburgh to the Sanskrit word markati (p. 553). That is a common legume, but he says no use seems to be made of it, except that the hairs of the legumes are used as a vermifuge and are believed to be poisonous.


This is not in the dictionary, and I do not know what it is.


Prasṛṣṭā. Does this mean that these plants grow only in a cultivated State?




The heaven of the pitṛs?


The 18th lunar mansion.?


The constellation Svāti.


Gāndharva is the name of one of the nine portions of Bhārata-varṣa; hut this seems inappropriate.


The constellation Ursa Major.


See verse 77.