The Markandeya Purana

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

This page relates “commencement of the devi-mahatmya” which forms the 81st 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 81 is included the section known as “exposition of the manvantaras”.

Canto LXXXI - Commencement of the Devī-Māhātmya

The slaughter of Madhu and Kaiṭabha in the account of the Sāvarṇika Manvantara

King Suratha being defeated and driven from his kingdom took refuge in the forest with a muni—He met a vaiśya who had been driven from his home by his relatives, and both asked the muni about the selfish feelings which still possessed them.—He ascribes those feelings to the goddess Mahāmāyā or Great Illusion, and relates how Brahmā lauded the goddess at the end of a former kalpa in order to seek deliverance from the demons Madhu and Kaitabha, and how Viṣṇu awaking slew the demons.

Om! Reverence to Caṇḍikā:

Mārkaṇḍeya spoke:

Sūrya’s son Sāvarṇi is he who is called the eighth Manu. Hear about his birth, as I tell if at full length, how by reason of the authority of the Great Illusion[1] that illustrious son of the Sun, Sāvai'ṇi, became the king of the eighth manvantara.

In times ago in the Svārociṣa period, a king named Suratha, sprung of the race of Caitra, reigned oyer the whole earth. And while he guarded his subjects duly as if they were his own children, there arose hostile kings, who did not destroy the Kolas.[2] He the bearer of a very powerful sceptre had war with them, and was defeated in war by them, inferior though they were, those non-destroyers of the Kolas. Then coming to his own city he reigned as king over his own country. That illustrious king was attacked then by those powerful enemies. His powerful and corrupt ministers, who were evil-disposed to a weak person, thereupon robbed him of treasury and army even there in his own city. Hence the king deprived of his sovereignty departed alone on horse-back to a dense forest under the pretence of hunting. There he saw the hermitage of the noble dvija Medhas, inhabited by wild animals which were peaceful, graced by the muni’s disciples; and he dwelt there some time, honoured by the muni. And roaming hither and thither in that fine hermitage of the muni, he fell into thought there then, his mind being distraught by selfishness, egotistical —“Lost indeed is the city which I guarded formerly. Whether it is guarded righteously or not by those my servants of wicked conduct, I know not. My chief war-elephant, always ardent, has passed into the power of my foes; what pleasures will he obtain? They who were my constant followers now assuredly pay court to other kings with favour, riches and food. The treasure which I amassed with great difficulty will go to waste through those men, addicted to unbecoming expenditure, who are squandering it continually.” These and other matters the king thought of continually.

Near the brāhman’s hermitage there he saw a solitary vaiśya, and asked him, “Ho! who art thou ? and what is the reason of thy coming here? Why appearest thou as if full of sorrow, as if afflicted in mind?” Hearing this speech of the king, which was uttered in friendly mood, the vaiśya, bowing respectfully, replied to the king, “I am a vaiśya, Samādhī by name, born in a family of wealthy folk, and have been cast out by my sons and wife, who are wicked through greed for wealth. And bereft of riches, wife and sons, taking my wealth I have come to the forest, unhappy and cast out by my trusted kinsmen. In this state I know not what is the behaviour of my sons as regards prosperity or adversity, nor of my family nor of my wife. Here I dwell. Is welfare theirs at home now or ill-luck? How are they? Are my sons living good or evil lives?”

The king spoke:

Why dost thou, Sir, fix thy mental affection on those Covetous folk, thy sons, wife and others, who have cast thee out from thy wealth?

The vaiśya spoke:

This very thought has occurred to me, just as thou hast uttered it, Sir. What can I do? My mind does not entertain implacability; and my mind, which bears affection as of a master to his family, is affectionate to those very persons, who have abandoned affection for a father and driven me out in their greed for riches. I do not comprehend, although I know it, O high-minded Sir, how it is that the mind is prone to love even towards worthless kinsmen. On their account my sighs flow and distress of mind arises. What can I do since my mind is not relentless to those unloving relatives?

Mārkaṇḍeya spoke:

Thereupon they both, the vaiśya named Samādhi and the noble king approached the muni, O brāhman, and having both observed the etiquette worthy of him, as was proper, they sat down and held various discourse, the vaiśya and the king.

The king spoke:

Adorable Sir! I desire to ask thee one thing; tell me that; since it tends to afflict my mind without producing submissiveness of my intellect. I have a selfish feeling for my kingdom, even with regard to all the requisites of regal administration, although I know what it is, yet like one who is ignorant; how is this, O est of munis? And this man has been set at nought and cast off by his children, wife and servants; and when forsaken by his family he is nevertheless exceedingly full of affection towards them,. Thus he and I also are both excessively unhappy; our minds are drawn by selfish thoughts to this matter, even though we perceive the faults in it. How happens this then, illustrious Sir, that we are deluded although aware of it, and that this state of delusion besets me and him, who are each blind in respect of discrimination?

The ṛṣi spoke:

Every animal has this knowledge in objects cognizable by the senses and an object of sense reaches it thus in divers ways, illustrious Sir! Some living beings are blind by day, and others are blind at night; some living beings can see equally well by day and at night. Mankind know what is true, but not they alone indeed, because cattle, birds, wild animals and other creatures all certainly know it; and men have[3] the same knowledge which those wild animals and birds have, and equally both wild animals and birds have the other knowledge which those men have. Though they have such knowledge, look at these birds, which, though distressed by hunger themselves, are yet because of that same delusion assiduous in dropping grains into the beaks of their young ones. Human beings are full of longings towards their children, O hero; do they not pass from greed for self unto mutual benefaction;[4] dost thou not perceive this? Nevertheless they are hurled into the whirlpool of selfishness which is the pit of delusion; through the power of the Great Illusion[5] they make worldly existence permanent.[6] Marvel not then at this. This is the contemplation-sleep of the lord of the world, and the Great Illusion that comes from Hari; by it the world is completely deluded. Verily she, the adorable goddess, Great Illusion, forcibly drawing the minds even of those who know, presents them to delusion. By her is created this whole universal both moveable and immoveable; she it is who when propitious bestows boons on men with a view to their final emancipation, She is Knowledge supreme; she is the eternal cause of final emancipation, and the cause of the bondage of worldly existence; she indeed is the queen over all lords.

The king spoke:

Adorable Sir! Who then is that goddess whom thou stylest Mahāmāyā? How was she born, and what is her sphere of action, O brāhman? And what is her disposition, and what is her nature, and whence did she originate, the goddess—all that I wish to bear from thee, O thou most learnod in sacred knowledge!

The ṛṣi spoke:

She exists eternally, embodied as the world. By her this universe was stretched forth. Nevertheless her origin is in many ways; hear it from me. When she reveals herself in order to accomplish the purposes of the gods, it is then said in the world that she is born; she is also named the Eternal One.[7] While the adorable lord Viṣṇu, stretching Śeṣa out, wooed the sleep of contemplation at the end of the kalpa, when the universe was converted into absolute ocean, then two terrible Asuras named Madhu and Kaiṭabha,[8] springing from the root of Viṣṇu’s ear, sought to slay Brahmā. Brahmā the Prajāpati stood on the lotus that grew from Viṣṇu’s navel; and seeing those two fierce Asuras and sleeping Janārdana, and standing with heart solely thereon intent, in order to awaken Hari, extolled that Sleep of contemplation which had made its dwelling in Hari’s eyes— the lord of splendour extolled Viṣṇu’s Sleep, which is Queen of the universe, the supporter of the world, the cause of permanence and dissolution, full of reverence, incomparable.[9]

Brahmā spoke:

Thou art Svāhā, thou art Svadhā; thou indeed art Vaṣaṭkāra, thou hast sound for thy soul;[10] thou art the nectar of the gods, the two eternal letters,[11] thou existest having the three-fold mātrās for thy soul;[12] thou existest half a mātrā in duration yet eternal; thou indeed canst not be uttered specifically; thou art[13] the Sāvitrī,[14] thou art the divine mother[15] sublime. By thee indeed everything is maintained, by thee this world is created, by thee[16] it is protected, O goddess! and thou dost always consume it at the end. At its emanation thou didst take the form of creation, and in protecting it thou hast the form of permanence, and at the end of this world thou wilt have the form of contraction, O thou who containest the world! Thou art the Great Knowledge, the Great Illusion, the Great Vigour, the Great Memory, and the Great Delusion,[17] the Lady, the Great Goddess, the Great Demon.[18] And thou art the original source[19] of the universe, the exciting cause of the three qualities; thou art the Night of the world’s destruction, the Great Night, and the Night of delusion, terrible! Thou art Good Fortune, thou art Queen, thou art Modesty; thou art Intelligence characterized by perception; thou art Shame, Nourishment, and Contentment, Tranquillity and Patience also. Thou art terrible, armed with sword, with spear, with club, and with discus, with conch, with bow, and having as weapons arrows, slings[20] and an iron mace. Thou art gentle, yea more than gentle, exceedingly beautiful to those who are wholly gentle; thou art indeed beyond the highest and the lowest, Queen supreme! And whatever or wherever a thing is, whether good or bad, thou art the energy which all that possesses, O thou who art the soul of everything. Can I extol thee more than this?[21] By thee, who art such, he indeed, who created the world, who protects the world,[22] who consumes the world, is brought under the dominion of sleep. Who is able here to extol thee? Since Viṣṇu, I and Śiva have been made by thee to assume bodies, who then may be powerful enough to extol thee? Being such, do thou, O goddess, lauded thus, bewitch these two unassailable Asuras, Madhu and Kaiṭabha, with thy exalted powers, and let the imperishable master of the world be lightly brought back to consciousness, and let him rouse up his intelligence to slay these two great Asuras!

The ṛṣi spoke:

Then the goddess of darkness, extolled thus by the Creator there in order to awaken Viṣṇu to slay Madhu and Kaiṭabha, issued forth from his eyes, mouth, nose, arms and heart and breast, and stood in the sight of Brahmā whose birth is inscrutable; and Janārdana, master of the world, being quitted by her, rose up from his couch in the universal ocean; and he saw those two then, Madhu and Kaiṭabha, evil of soul, excelling in heroism and prowess, red-eyed through anger, fully prepared to devour Brahmā. Thereupon the adorable lord Hari rose up and fought with those two, striking them with his arms, for five thousands of years. And they, exceedingly frenzied with their power, deluded by the Great Illusion, exclaimed to Keśava, “Choose a boon from us!”

The god spoke:

Be ye both now content with me; ye must both be slain by me! What need is there of any other boon here? Thus much indeed is my choice.

The ṛṣi spoke:

Gazing then at the entire world which was nothing but water, those two, who had been thus tricked, spoke to the adorable lotus-eyed god,—“Slay us where the earth is not overwhelmed with water.”[23]

The ṛṣi spoke:

“Be it so” said the adorable wielder of the conch, discus and club, and cutting[24] them with his discus clove them both asunder, heads and buttocks. Thus was she born when praised by Brahmā himself. Now listen again, I tell thee of this goddess’ majesty.

Footnotes and references:




Kolāvidhvaṃsinah. This is an adjective in the nom. plural, agreeing with bhūpāḥ, and not a gen. case; and it is also a single compound, as appears from the next verse. Besides various fanciful explanations, the oommentator renders kola as śūkara, and the whole word as “Yavanas.” It seems plain that the Kolas mean aboriginal races, the Kols, and the whole word denotes some enemies who were in allianoe with the Kolas.


The Bombay edition reads na instead of ca, “men have not the same knowledge, &c.”


This is very noteworthy. The altruistic virtues are here said to have been evolved out of the parental virtues.




For Saṃsāra-sthiti-kāriṇaḥ the Bombay edition reads Saṃsāra-sthiti-kāriṇā, “ they are hurled, &c., through the power of the Great Illusion which makes worldly existence permanent.”




See Harivaṃśa, ccii. 13662-81.


The Bombay edition introduces staumi and some changes in the second line, and reads this verse as the beginning of Brahma’s invocation.


Or, “thou hast heaven for thy soul,” svarātmikā. The meaning “sound” seems preferable, as it agrees with the rest of the verse.


Om ? The commentary overlooks this expression, akṣare nitye.


“The three prosodial measures.” The expression tridhāmātrātmikā, is also divided by the commentator into tri-dhāmā trātmikā, “thou hast the three mansions, (i.e., the three worlds, the three Vedas, the three chief deities, &c.), thou hast the preserver (Viṣṇu) for thy soul.”


For sā tvam the Bombay edition reads sandhyā, “the twilight.”


The Gāyatrī verse.


For devī jananī the Bombay edition reads Veda-jananī, “the mother of the Veda.”


For tvayetat read tvayaitat.


Or rather, “thou hast the great delusion,” Mahā-mohā.


Mahāsurī. The Bombay edition reads Maheśvarī, “the Great Queen.”




Bhuśuṇḍi. After explaining this word as a contraction of bhuja-śatru-muṇḍī, “she who cuts off enemies with her arms,” the commentator says it = go-phaṇikā, “a sling.” The dictionary says it is “a kind of weapon (perhaps a kind of fire-arms).”


Mayā as in the Bombay edition is preferable to tadā.


For gajatpātātti read jagat pāty atti according to the Bombay edition; see verse 56.


The Bombay edition makes this sentence the second line of a new verse and reads as the first line of it — Prītau svas tava yuddhena ślāghyas tvaṃ mṛtyur āvayoḥ, “We are pleased at the battle with thee; thou art worthy of praise as Death to us!”


For kṛtvā read kṛttvā?

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