The Skanda Purana

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

This page describes Destruction of Vishnu’s Head which is chapter 14 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 fourteenth chapter of the Dharmaranya-khanda of the Brahma-khanda of the Skanda Purana.

Chapter 14 - Destruction of Viṣṇu’s Head

[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]

Note: This chapter and the next describe Viṣṇu’s transformation as a horse-necked god.

Yudhiṣṭhira said:

1-2. O blessed one, O ocean of compassion, O lord of the gods, O omnipresent one, when was penance performed here by Viṣṇu of unmeasured refulgence. Further narrate to me in the proper sequence everything that was stated by Śiva, the noble soul, to Skanda.

Vyāsa said:

3. Listen, O dear one. O excellent king, once upon a time penance was performed here by Viṣṇu of unmeasured refulgence.

Skanda said:

4. How can the Divine lake Paṃpā, Caṃpā and Gayā be superior to Vārāṇasī and how did Hari become a horse-faced one?

Īśvara said:

5-6. Here Lord Nārāyaṇa performed a very difficult penance for three hundred divine years. He became excellent in face. O dear son, the great Viṣṇu performed penance for the sake of excellent form. O excessively brilliant one, in that spot of Siddhas, Hari became horse-faced.

Skanda said:

7. Now you tell us the reason why Hari became horse-faced. He is the lord of gods. He is the lord of the universe and he is the destroyer of a great enemy.

8-10. O auspicious one! By (uttering) his (very) name, masses of sins get dissolved quickly like the (disappearance of) darkness after sunrise. Verily his miraculously wonderful exploits are heard. The supreme god is the cause of individual souls of all, in the form of vital breath. How can such a god be transformed into a horse? He is glorified as a single-formed one in the Tantras.

11-12. He can be approached through devotion. He is always pure and he is happiness incarnate unto those who are virtuous. He is beyond the Guṇas. He is eternal and all-pervasive and also devoid of all attributes. He is the creator, protector and destroyer. He is unmanifest unto all embodied ones. He is favourable to everyone. He is excessively refulgent. How did he become horse-faced?

13-15. Devas, Serpents, mountains, trees etc. are born of his hairs. In every Kalpa, the entire universe is born of his person. He alone is the origin of the universe. He alone is its ultimate cause. It is by him that the sciences and sacrificial rites that had become extinct, were revived. The wicked demon who attempted (to take away) the Vedas was killed by him. Such was the great Viṣṇu. How did he become horse-faced?

16-21. The gem-wombed earth has been held by him sportingly on his back. The entire universe consisting of the mobile and immobile beings was made by him duty-bound and well-ordered. He is the lord of universal forms. How did he become horse-faced?

He is the slayer of Hiraṇyākṣa. He, of great brilliance, assumed the highly sacred form of the boar and entered the watery ocean. The entire earth along with the oceans and mountains has been lifted up by him sportively on the tip of his tusk. He assumed the brownish form of the boar that destroys all sorrows. How did that divine lord come to be Hayagrīva (‘Horse-necked’)?

For the sake of Prahlāda that Lord assumed a terrible form of the Man-lion of great brilliance, destructive of all wicked ones. He protected the excellent devotee in the midst of fires, mountains and oceans.

22-26. At the time of dusk he slew Hiraṇyakaśipu, the wicked one. He installed Prahlāda in the seat of Indra which accorded pleasure to him. Indeed, it was for Prahlāda’s sake that he assumed the form of the Man-lion.

He would also become a suppliant in front of Virocana’s son (i.e. Bali). He was duly honoured by Bali in the horse-sacrifice. Measuring the earth and firmament with three steps, he took away the earth. He assumed the Cosmic Form and hurled Bali into the nether region.

(As Paraśurāma) he, of extremely exalted energy, killed Kṣatriyas twenty-one times all over the world and gave the earth unto Brāhmaṇas. Haihaya king Sahasrārjuna was killed by him. So also he killed his own mother.

27. (As Rāma) even as a child the wicked demoness in the world named Tāḍakā was killed by Him, due to the favour of Kauśika (Viśvāmitra).

28. At the holy sacrifice of Viśvāmitra, he assumed playfully the form of a human being and slew fourteen thousand Rākṣasas with his own prowess.

29-31. Śūrpaṇakhā was killed (?) and Triśiras was smitten down. He killed Vālin of excellent neck and with the help of Sugrīva made the bridge on the ocean. He killed Rāvaṇa in battle and having reached Dharmāraṇya, he adored the Brāhmaṇas. He granted royal decrees to excellent Brāhmaṇas assigning many villages to them. After taking the holy dip in Dharmavāpī he gifted many cows.

32-36. After protecting the good ones for the sake of curbing the wicked ones, he performed these and many other well-known exploits out of mere sport. How did that lord become horse-faced?

He was born in the Yādava race and he slew Pūtanā, Śakaṭa, demon Ariṣṭa, Keśin, demon Vṛka, demon Baka, demon Śalaṭa (?), the great demon Tṛṇāvarta and Dhenuka. He killed the wrestler Malla, Kaṃsa and Jarāsandha (?) How did that slayer of Kālayavana become horse-faced?

He vanquished demon Naraka in battle, subjugated sixty thousand cities (?). He married sixteen thousand maidens. After performing all these super-human deeds, how did he become horse-faced?

37-38. He is the protector of all devotees and the slayer of all wicked ones. He establishes virtue (Dharma) as Kalki and is stationed in the firmament (in the seat of Viṣṇu). What you have revealed is highly surprising. O destroyer of Tripuras, narrate all these to me. What is the cause thereof?

Śrī Rudra said:

39. O mighty-armed one, you have asked well (a pertinent question). I shall tell you the reason of Kṛṣṇa (Viṣṇu)’s being horse-faced. Listen attentively.

Vyāsa said:

40-43. Formerly, a Yajña (sacrifice) was begun verily on the earth by the Devas. All of them with Rudra at the head, wanted to invoke (Viṣṇu) through Vedic Mantras. They went to Vaikuṇṭha, his own abode, the Milky Ocean as well as the nether regions. Even after going there they could not see Kṛṣṇa (Viṣṇu) (there). All of them were overpowered by delusion and ran about here and there. Janārḍana of the Brahman form could not be seen by them. All the Devas with Indra at their head began to ponder over this, ‘Where has this Viṣṇu gone? By what means can he be seen?’

44. Bowing down to Bṛhaspati (‘Master of Speech’) they respectfully submitted: “Oh, be pleased to tell us (the whereabouts) of Mahāviṣṇu, the lord of Devas.”

Bṛhaspati said:

45. I do not know why Acyuta, Hari, the Supreme Soul has become Yogārūḍha (‘merged in the Yogic abstraction and absorption’). Viṣṇu is the lord of Yogins, Yoga personified.

46. Meditating for a short while within himself Hari was revealed to Dhiṣaṇa (Bṛhaspati). All the Devas went to the place where the lord of the universe was present.

47-48. Then Janārdana, the great Viṣṇu, was seen engaged in meditation. After seeing the slayer of demons armed with an arrow, having the form befitting his activity and occupying a level ground, he (Bṛhaspati) reflected and tried to find out a means of waking him up. He then said to them: “If the white ants could with effort cut the bowstring, then Hari may wake up by himself hearing that sound.”

The Devas said:

49. O ants, we wish to perform a holy sacrifice. Be pleased to gnaw at the bowstring whereby Hari will wake up. We shall then request the lord.

The ants said:

50. A person who causes disturbance to sleep, interruption to a (holy) story, split in the affection of wedded couples and separation of an infant from its mother, shall go to hell.

51. The lord of the universe is in Yogic absorption. The extremely powerful lord is in ecstatic meditation. We shall not cause any hindrance to that lord of the universe.

Brahmā said:

52. The ability of ye all to nibble at anything may bring about the fulfilment of the task of gods. Therefore, O ants, that should be carried out, so that the Yajña can be concluded successfully.

The queen of the ants, O dear one, said to them again:

The Ant said:

53-56. The lord of the universe is very difficult to control. He is like the Malaya breeze. He is honoured and revered by the gods. How can he be wakened by us, O Brāhmaṇa? We have nothing to do either with the Yajña or with the Devas. (Hence) let the Suras (Devas) give unto me a share in all the rites of Yajña.

The Devas said:

We shall always give a share to Vamrīs (ants) in Yajñas. We have (already) given for the sacrifice. So carry out what we have requested for.

Brahmā too said, “So be it.” The Vamrī too began its endeavour (of nibbling). So, O king, the act of nibbling at the bowstring and similar activities were carried out.

Yudhiṣṭhira said:

57. O son of Satyavatī, O Brāhmaṇa-Sage, this waking him by the snapping of the bowstring during the meditation process would be really wonderful.

Vyāsa said:

58. The minds of all the Devas were too much engrossed. The bow of Hari had been drawn fully. I do not know whereby they had been deluded by the Māyā of Viṣṇu.

59. They were delighted (i.e. the ants?) and hurled (i.e. quickly built up) anthill in front of Hari. An anthill on a par with a mountain was raised to the tip of the bow.

60-61. The moment that the defiled bow-string was gnawed out, the head (of Viṣṇu) was instantaneously chopped off by the tip of the bow and went to heaven (along with it). When the head vanished, the Devas became full of anxiety and they ran about here and there in search of the head.

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