The Skanda Purana

by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 2,545,880 words

This page describes Dialogue between Narada and Sutanu which is chapter 5 of the English translation of the Skanda Purana, the largest of the eighteen Mahapuranas, preserving the ancient Indian society and Hindu traditions in an encyclopedic format, detailling on topics such as dharma (virtous lifestyle), cosmogony (creation of the universe), mythology (itihasa), genealogy (vamsha) etc. This is the fifth chapter of the Kaumarika-khanda of the Maheshvara-khanda of the Skanda Purana.

Chapter 5 - Dialogue between Nārada and Sutanu

[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]

Nārada said:

1. Then I said to Dharmavarmā, “Let the wealth remain with you. I shall take it at the time of need” and I came over to the mountain Raivata (i.e. Mt. Girnār in Gujarat).

2. I was delighted to see that excellent mountain which rose up like the hand of the Earth beckoning all good men.

3. Different kind of trees shine on it like the sons, wife and others (i.e. other members of a household) who have a righteous lord of the house.

4. Joyous and contented cuckoos cooed and chirped there like groups of pupils who had acquired good knowledge from an excellent preceptor on the earth.

5. By performing penance there men can obtain whatever they desire, like a devotee who derives all that he wishes for, after resorting to Śrī Mahādeva.

6. After reaching the great rocky ridge of that mountain, O son of Pṛthā, I became delighted by the cool breeze of great fragrance. I thought thus in my mind:

7. ‘I have now acquired a spot which (ordinarily) is very difficult to get. Now I shall begin (my attempt) for getting the Brāhmaṇas (to be settled there),

8. Indeed those Brāhmaṇas who are considered to be the most deserving of all should be looked for by me. Statements of the expounders of the Vedas are thus heard in this connection.

9. Just as a rudderless boat is incompetent to cross a waterway, so also even an excellent Brāhmaṇa is incapable of redeeming (others) if he does not practise good conduct.

10. A Brāhmaṇa who does not study (scriptural texts) ceases to be (a Brāhmaṇa) like (the quickly extinguishing) grass-fire. Havya (‘sacrificial offerings’) should not be given to him. Indeed the rite of Havana (‘sacrificial oblations’) is not performed on ash (but a blazing fire).

11. If deserving persons are ignored and a charitable gift is offered to an undeserving person, it is (as bad as) offering Gavāhnika (‘daily measure of food given to a cow’) to a donkey after ignoring a cow.

12. The charitable gift offered to a fool is transitory and worthless like the seed sown in a barren land, or milking (a cow) in a broken pot, or the Havya offered on ash.

13. If a monetary gift is offered to an undeserving person and contrary to the injunctions, not only does the money so offered vanish but also the remaining merit is destroyed.

14-15. The following things acquired by undeserving persons kill them (i.e. cause harm): land and cow destroy worldly pleasures; gold destroys the body; horse causes harm to the eye and garments; ghee causes harm to the brilliance; and gingelly seeds cause harm to the progeny. Hence a person not learned should be afraid of accepting monetary gifts and the like. Even with a small quantity of these (if accepted) the unlettered one suffers from pain and disaster like the cow bogged in a marshy place.

16. Hence a gift offered to the following is everlasting and imperishable: those with hidden (power of) penance, those who secretly study and recite (the Vedas), those who are devoted only to their wives and those who are tranquil.

17. If a gift is offered to a deserving person at the proper place and time and the thing so given is acquired by good means and if it is offered with sincerity and ardent faith, that would be an index of good piety.

18. One does not become a deserving person by learning alone or austerities alone- Where there is good conduct along with these two, people call them deserving persons.

19. Among these three qualities, learning is the most im-portant quality. One without learning is like a blind man. Those with learning are considered to be blessed with (perfect) eyesight.

20. Hence learned persons, persons with perfect vision should be tested (i.e. found by test) in every land. I will make the gift to those who will answer my questions.’

21. After thinking thus in my mind, I started from that place and visited the hermitages of great sages, O Phālguna.

22-29. I used to sing the following verses in the form of questions.[1] Listen to them. “Who knows Mātṛkā (‘alphabet’)? riow many types? What are the syllables? Which Brāhmaṇa knows the five times five wonderful house? Who knows how to make the multiformed woman into a single-formed one? Which man of the world knows the Citrakathābandha[2] Which man devoted to Mantras and learning knows the great crocodile of the ocean? Which excellent Brāhmaṇa knows the eightfold Brāhmaṇahood? Who will tell the ‘root’ days (i.e. the days of the beginning) of the four Yugasl? Who knows the ‘root’ days (i.e. the first day of the advent of each Manvantara) of fourteen Manus? On which day did the Sun formerly get his chariot? Who knows that which causes affliction to all living beings like a black serpent? Who shall be the cleverest of ail clever people in this cruel and terrible world (i.e. worldly existence)? Which Brāhmaṇa knows and expounds the two paths?”

These are my twelve questions. Those excellent Brāhmaṇas who know these, are the greatest among those worthy of being praised. I will be their worshipper for a long time-

Singing thus I wandered over the whole of the earth.

30-31. They said: “The questions put by you give pain. We do salute you.” Thus I roamed over the entire earth. Even after seeking them over the entire earth, I did not get a single Brāhmaṇa. I sat on the top of the Himalaya mountain and began to think again: ‘All the Brāhmaṇas have been seen. What should I do next?’

32. Even as 1 was thinking thus, this struck my mind: I have not gone yet to the excellent village of Kalāpa.[3]

33. Eighty-four thousand Brāhmaṇas who are devoted to the study (i.e. listening and learning) of the Vedas, live there like embodied forms of penance.

34. I will go to that place: Saying so, I started then. Walking through the sky, I crossed the snow (-clad peak) and reached the other side.

35. I saw the great jewel of a village situated on that holy spot. It extended to a hundred Yojanas. It was full of different kinds of trees.

36. There were hundreds of excellent hermitages of meritorious persons. All the animals and other living beings did not have any animosity or wickedness inter se.

37. The whole village always rendered help to the sages performing sacrifices. Similarly the assistance of good and virtuous persons never ceased (i.e. was always available).

38. There was the great abode of sages, the imperishable abode in that village. (The recitation of) Mantras (with words) such as Svāhā, Svadhā, Vaṣaṭ(-kāra) and Hanta(-kāra) never ceased there.

39. It is here, O son of Pṛthā, that the seed for the sake of Kṛtayuga is kept in reserve. So also that of the Solar and Lunar races as well as that of Brāhmaṇas.

40. After reaching that place, I entered the hermitages of Brāhmaṇas. There, excellent Brāhmaṇas were engaged in discussing various doctrines.

41-43. They were discussing and arguing mutually. They appeared like the Vedas in embodied forms. Some of those intelligent ones, of noble souls, refuted others as (crows) scatter the pieces of flesh in the sky. There I raised my hand and said: “O Brāhmaṇas, of what avail are your shouts like the cawings of crows? Let this be heard. If you possess perfect knowledge, clarify my questions, the many unbearable questions I will ask.”

Brāhmaṇas said:

44. Tell us, O Brāhmaṇa, your questions? On hearing them, we shall answer them. This is indeed a great gain for us that Your Honour put these questions.

45. With a desire to be the first to answer (and saying “I first”) they (vied with one another and) denied the opportunity to others to answer. Just as brave warriors go ahead saying “I will go first, I will go first”, so also (they came forward).

46-47. Then I put to them the old twelve questions. On hearing them, those leading sages said in a playful mood: “O Brāhmaṇa, of what use are these childish questions put by you? These questions will be answered by one among us whom you consider the least learned (i.e. these questions do not deserve to be answered by a learned man).”

48. I became surprised thereby. I considered myself contented and blessed. Thinking one of them to be the least learned among them, I said: “Let this one reply.”

49. Thereupon that boy named Sutanu, a boy having no boyishness (i.e. ignorance), spoke to me:

Sutanu said:

My speech proceeds slowly, O Brāhmaṇa, on account of your silly (i.e. very simple) questions. Still I shall reply because you consider me the least (learned).

50-53a. The letters of the alphabet are known to be fifty-two. The syllable OM is the first among them. Then there are fourteen vowels. The Sparśas (i.e. the consonants) are thirty-three. Then there is Anusvāra (ṃ). There are the following too: Visarjanīya (ḥ =:) and Jihvāmūlīya (ḥk, ḥkh) and Upadhmānīya (ḥp, ḥph). Thus these are the fifty-two.

Thus the number has been explained to you. O Brāhmaṇa, listen to the meaning of these:

53b-55. In this context, I will tell you an ancient legend. The events took place formerly in Mithilā, in the abode of a Brāhmaṇa.

Formerly, in the city of Mithilā, there was a Brāhmaṇa named Kauthuma. All the lores that are on the earth had been mastered by him, O Brāhmaṇa. He exerted himself earnestly in this matter for thirty-one thousand years.

56-57. Without the break of even a single moment, he continued to read (i.e. learn). Then he married. After some time a son was born to Kauthuma. Behaving like a dullard, he learned the Mātṛkās (i.e. letters of the alphabet) only. After reading the Mātṛkās, he did not learn anything else at all.

58-59. Then the father who was extremely dejected and distressed, spoke to that sluggish fellow: “Study, son, study. I will give you sweetmeats. Else I shall give them to others and twist your ears.”

The Son replied:

60. O father, is it for the sake of sweetmeats that one should study? Should covetousness be the reason? Study for men, it is said, should be for the sake of the attainment of the greatest good.

Kauthuma said:

61. May you get the duration of the life of god Brahmā, since you say this. Let this good sense be in you (for ever). Why do you not study further?

The Son said:

62. Everything that should be learned and understood has been learnt here (in Mātṛkās) itself. Thereafter why should the throat be made more and more parched? Tell me.

The Father said:

63. O boy, you are speaking in a mysterious manner. What thing has been understood by you here. Say it again, O dear one, I wish to hear your words.

The Son said:

64. Even after learning for thirty-one thousand years, O father, only different kinds of arguments and mistaken notions have been retained by you in your mind.

65. Various Dharmas have been mentioned in the Darśanas (‘systems of philosophy’) by specifically pointing them out. But your mind is acting like a gaseous matter in regard to them. I shall destroy that.

66-67. You are making a study of the instructions but you are not conversant with the real meaning. Those Brāhmaṇas who rely solely on the wordings of the text are indeed biped brutes. Hence I shall tell you those words which will wonderfully act as the solar splendour dispelling the darkness of delusion.[4]

68. Akāra (i.e. the letter A) is described (i.e. it means) to be Brahmā. Ukāra (i.e. letter U) is called Viṣṇu. Makāra (i.e. letter MA) is declared as Rudra. These three are spoken of as Guṇas.

69. The half Mātrā at the top of ॐ, is the greatest one. It is Sadāśiva himself. This is the greatness of Oṃkāra. This is the eternal Śruti.

70. The greatness of Oṃkāra cannot be exactly described even in ten thousand years, even by means of a crore of Granthas (i.e. books, verses).

71-75. Again let what is mentioned as the utmost essence be listened to. The letters beginning with Akāra (letter A) and ending with ḥkāra (letter i.e. Visarga) are the fourteen Manus. They are Svāhaṃbhuva [Svāyaṃbhuva?], Svārocis, Auttama, Raivata, Tāmasa, Cākṣuṣa the sixth one, Vaivasvata the current one, Sāvarṇi, Brahmasāvarṇi, Rudrasāvarṇi, Dakṣasāvarṇi, Dharmasāvarṇi, Raucya and Bhautya. They have the complexions in the following order: white, pale-white, red, coppery, yellow, tawny, black, dark, smoky, and reddish brown, brown, three-coloured, variegated, karkandhura (i.e. having the colour of the jujube fruit).

76. Vaivasvata is Kṣakāra also, O dear father. He is seen as black in colour (also). The thirty-three letters beginning with letter KA and ending with HA are the (thirty-three) Devas.

77-78. The letters beginning with KA and ending with THA are known as the twelve Ādityas. viz. Dhātā, Mitra, Aryaman, Śakra. Varuṇa, Aṃśu, Bhaga, Vivasvān, Pūṣan, Savitṛ the tenth one, Tvaṣṭṛ the eleventh and Viṣṇu who is called the twelfth (Āditya).

79-80. He is the last born among the Ādityas but he is superior to others (in goodness and power). The letters beginning with DA and ending with BA are known as the eleven Rudras. They are Kapāli, Piṅgala, Bhīma, Virūpākṣa, Vilohita, Ajaka, Śāsana, Śāstā, Śaṃbhu, Caṇḍa and Bhava.

81-82. The eight letters beginning with BHA and ending with SA are considered to be the eight Vasus. They are Dhruva, Ghora, Soma, Āpa, Anala, Anila, Pratyūṣa and Prabhāsa. These are known as the eight Vasus. The two letters SA and HA are reputed as the Aśvins. Thus these thirty-three are known.

83-84. The Anusvāra, Visarga, Jihvāmūlīya and Upadhmānīya are the four types of living beings, viz. Jarāyujas (‘those born of the womb’), Aṇḍajas (‘those born of eggs’), Svedajas (‘born of sweat’) and Udbhijjas (‘trees and creepers that break the ground and grow’). Thus, O dear father, the living beings are declared. This is the implied meaning that is mentioned just now, Listen to the true meaning now.

85. Those men who resort to these Devas and are devoted to holy rites, become merged in that eternal position of the half Mātrā (i.e. Sadā śiva).

86. These living beings belonging to the four species of creatures become liberated, when mentally, verbally and physically they worship Suras.

87. If in any treatise these Devas are not honoured by sinners, that treatise should not be held sacred even if god Brahmā himself were to speak it out.

88. These Devas are well-established in the path of Vedas. In all heretical treatises, they are denounced by men of evil action.

89. Those vicious people who transgress these Devas and perform the rites of penance, charitable gifts and repetition of names, do tremble (i.e- wander) in the path of the Maruts.

90. Alas! See the might of delusion of those who have not conquered themselves (i.e. controlled themselves). Those sinners study Mātṛkā but do not honour Suras.

Sutanu said:

91. On hearing his words, the father became extremely surprised. He asked him many questions and he (i.e. the son) replied then and there.

92. Your first question about the Mātṛkā has been clarified by me. Listen to the clarification of the second question on the wonderful abode of five times five.

93-95a. The five elements, the five Karmendriyas (‘organs of action’), Jñānendriyas (‘organs of sense’), the five Viṣayas (‘objects of senses’), the mind, the intellect and Ahaṃkāra (‘Cosmic Ego’), Prakṛti and Puruṣa, the twenty-fifth one, i.e. Sadāśiva—these are the principles called five times five.[5] The house made by them is the body. He who understands this exactly, attains Śiva.

95b. Expounders of Vedānta call Buddhi (‘intellect’) as the multi-formed woman.

96. Since it refers to various objects, it undergoes various forms. But with the contact of the one object—Dharma—it is only one though it might have had many forms.

97-98. The knower of this true meaning does not fall into hell. What is not mentioned by the sages, what does not honour and accept the deities, and that which is full of lust: learned men call such statements, Bandham Citrakatham (‘the bondage caused by strange talk’?).

Now listen to the (answer of the) fifth (question).

99. The one, Lobha (‘greed’) only is the crocodile. It is due to greed that sins are committed. It is from greed that anger is aroused and lust too takes its origin from greed.

100. In fact everything (mentioned below) proceeds from greed: delusion, deception, false prestige, stiffness, desire to take away other people’s wealth, ignorance and absence of wisdom.

101. The robbing of other people’s wealth, molestation of other men’s wives, all risky adventures and the commission of atrocities—all these are the results of greed.

102-104a. This greed along with delusion should be conquered by one who has conquered his own self. Hypocrisy, hatred, censure, slander-mongering and malice—all these occur in greedy people who have not won over their own selves.

They may be persons knowing all the great Śāstras thoroughly, they may have learned much and they may be the dispellers of doubts, but being victims of greed they face downfall.

104b-109- Those who are affected by greed and anger are devoid of the conduct of Śiṣṭas (‘well-behaved, respected people’). They are like persons with sweet speech who keep a razor within. They are like wells covered with grass.

These people who have the motive and capacity try in various ways. These ruthless ones among human kind destroy the ways of all, out of greed. (OR: Out of greed, cruel people destroy all the pathways which people having the motive and the capacity make.)

These pretenders to piety are insignificant creatures. They adorn themselves with the external symbols of piety, but they rob the entire universe. These persons who are greedy should always be known as great sinners. Janaka, Yuvanāśva-Vṛṣādarbhi,[6] Prasenajit[7] and many other overlords of people have attained heaven because they had eschewed greed. Hence those who avoid greed cross the ocean of worldly existence. Others will be swallowed by the crocodile undoubtedly.

Then, O Brāhmaṇa, understand the eight classes of Brāhmaṇas.[8]

110-111. Mātra, Brāhmaṇa, Śrotriya and Anūcāna, Bhrūṇa, Ṛṣikalpa, Ṛṣi and Muni: these eight types of Brāhmaṇas have been mentioned at the outset in the Vedas. The later ones mentioned in the above list are (consecutively) greater than the earlier ones on account of the excellence of their learning and good conduct.

112. A person who has been born in a Brāhmaṇa family, his caste alone is that of Brāhmaṇa. But if he has not approached (a Guru for learning) and is devoid of holy rites, he is called Mātra.

113. A person who is straightforward, has eschewed ulterior motives, practises (the precepts of) the Vedas, is quiet and merciful and always utters the truth is called a Brāhmaṇa.

114. A person who has learned (at last) one branch (of the Vedas) along with its Kalpa and all the Aṅgas and who is habitually engaged in all the six holy duties and is well conversant with Dharma is known by the name Śrotriya.

115. A Brāhmaṇa who is well conversant with the Vedas and Vedāṅgas and their (essential) principles, who is of pure mind, who has got rid of sins, who is excellent and intelligent and who has a number of disciples eagerly engaged in the study of the Vedas etc. is known as Anūcāna.

116. A person endowed with all the good qualities of Anūcāna, who has restrained his senses with regular performance of Yajña and study of the Vedas, and who partakes of the food that remains (after everyone has taken his food) is called Bhrūṇa by good people.

117. He who has attained all knowledge, both Vedic and secular, who has restrained his senses and who always stays in a hermitage is called Ṛṣikalpa (‘nearly equal to a Ṛṣi’).

118. A person who has sublimated his sexual urge, who is very excellent, who has regular and simple food habits, who is free from suspicions, who is truthful and is competent to curse or bless shall be a Ṛṣi.

119. A person who refrains (from worldly activities completely), who is conversant with all principles, who is devoid of Just and anger, who is engaged in meditation and is free from activities, who has subdued the senses and who considers a lump of clay and a block of gold on a par is a Muni.

120. Those who are exalted by family pedigree, learning and good behaviour are the leading Brāhmaṇas designated as Triśuklas. They are adored in Savana and other sacrificial rites.

121. Thus the types of Brāhmaṇas have been described. Now listen to the days of the beginnings of the Yugas.[9] The ninth day in the bright half of the month of Kārttika is glorified as the first day of Kṛtayuga.

122. The third day in the bright half of the month of Vaiśākha is said to be the first day of Tretāyuga.

The new-moon day in the month of Māgha is known by learned men as the first day of Dvāparayuga.

123. The thirteenth day in the dark half of the month of Bhādrapada is known as the first day of Kali. These first days of the Yugas are known as the days causing everlasting benefits if charitable gifts are offered (on these days).

124. One should know thāt gifts made and Havanas (i.e. Fire worship, oblations to gods) performed on these four Yugādi days (‘first days of the Yugas’) yield ever-lasting benefits. Charitable gifts made over a period of hundred years in the course of a Yuga and those made on a single day, i.e. on the first day are of equal benefits.

125-128. The first days of the Yugas have been described. Now listen to the first days of the Manvantaras.[10]

The order is the same as that of the Manvantaras mentioned before (in verses 72 etc.): (1) The ninth day of the bright half of the month of Aśvayuj, (2) the twelfth day (of the bright half) of Kārttika, (3) the third day of the bright half of the month of Caitra, (4) the third day of the bright half of the month of Bhādrapaḍa, (5) the new-moon day in the month of Phālguna, (6) the eleventh day of (the bright half of) the month of Pauṣa, (7) the tenth day of the month of Āṣāḍha, (8) the seventh day of the month of Māgha, (9) the eighth day of the dark half of the month of Śrāvaṇa, (10) the full-moon day of the month of Āṣāḍha, (11) the full-moon day in the month of Kārttika, (12) the full-moon day of the month of Phālguna, (13) the full-moon day of the month of Caitra, and (14) the full-moon day of the month of Jyeṣṭha.

These are the first days of the Manvantaras causing everlasting benefits for the charitable gifts made on these days.

129. The seventh day in the month of Māgha called by Brāhmaṇas Rathasaptamī is the day on which formerly the Sun obtained the chariot.

130. If charitable gifts are made, Havana is performed or sacrifice is made on that day, all these yield everlasting benefit. It eradicates all poverty and it is considered as causing pleasure to the Sun.

131-132. Listen exactly to that person whom learned men call Nityodvejaka (‘one who always causes affliction to living beings’). He who begs everyday cannot attain heaven. Just like thieves, he afflicts the living beings. That man of sinful soul goes to Naraka (‘Hell’) since he causes perpetual affliction (toothers).

133. The person who, having pondered over: ‘By what acts (of mine) have I been born here? Where (shall) I have to go from this place’, adopted suitable measures, is called Dakṣa-dakṣa (‘cleverest of all the clever people’).

134. In the course of eight months, in a day, in the early stage of life or in the course of the whole life a person must do that Karman (‘act’) whereby he attains happiness in the end.

135. The expounders of Vedānta have mentioned two paths—that of Arcis (‘flame, bright light’) and that of Dhūma (‘smoke’). The person who proceeds through the path of Dhūma returns (to Saṃsāra). He who goes along the path of Arcis attains liberation.

136. The path of Dhūma is attained through Yajñas and the path of Arcis is obtained through Naiṣkarmya (i.e. cessation of all activities with motives and desires). The path other than these two is called Pākhaṇḍa (‘heretic path’).

137. He who does not accept Devas or performs none of the holy rites enjoined by Manu, does not go through any of these two paths. This is the essential principle.

138. Thus O excellent Brāhmaṇa, your questions have been clarified in accordance with my capacity. Tell me whether it is good or otherwise. Reveal yourself too.

Footnotes and references:


The questions asked here are explained in vv. 50ff. (being the reply of Sutanu to Nārada).


Vide vv. 97-98 below.


A mythological place where Maru and Devāpi, the last kings of the Solar and Lunar races await the dawning of Kṛtayuga to re-establish their dynasties. It was a pleasure haunt of Urvaśī and Purūravas. It is supposed to be near Badarikāśrama. Though the author’s description of Kalāpa-grāma is imaginary, the location is mythologically approximate.


VV. 68ff explain the mystic significance of Om, the Mātṛkās etc. It is beyond the scope of an annotator to assess the rationality regarding the presumptions A = God Brahmā, U = Viṣṇu, M = Rudra or the 14 Vowels from A to Ah (Visarga) as representing 14 Manus and such other esoteric explanations offered in these verses.


The influence of Sāṅkhyas is obvious but it is theistic.


The reading Vṛṣādarbhi shows that this Yuvanāśva was a supremely generous king who donated everything and went to heaven as mentioned in Mbh, Śānti 234.15.


Another ancient king noted for generosity. According to Mbh, Śānti 240.36, he gifted a hundred thousand cows along with calves.


The classification of Brāhmaṇas, their nomenclature and characteristics of each class given in vv. 110-19 is based on Devala (vide Aparārka, pp. 284-85).


There seems to be some difference of opinion in Purāṇas about the days on which the Yugas commenced. Thus MtP 17.4-5, VP 111.14.12-13 give 3rd Tithi of bright half of Vaiśākha, 9th of the bright half of Kārttika, 13th of the dark half of Bhādrapada and 15th Tithi of dark half of Māgha as the Yugādi (i.e. days of commencement) of Kṛta, Tretā, Dvāpara and Kali respectively (vide HD IV, p. 374, footnote 841 for other differences).


This list of the Manvādi Tithis (i.e. Tithis of the commencement of the 14 Manvantaras) agrees with that in MtP 17.6-8 and AP 117, 59-62.

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