by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 1,763,776 words
This page describes The Story of Twenty-one Kalpas which is chapter 13 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 thirteenth chapter of the Reva-khanda of the Avantya-khanda of the Skanda Purana.
Śrī Mārkaṇḍeya said:
1-8. On being eulogized thus by the leading sages, the divine, meritorious river thought thus: ‘I shall grant excellent boon unto all.’
Thereafter, on coming to know that they were asleep during the night, the Divinity of sweet smiles appeared before every sage in dream.
When it was midnight, she arose from the midst of the water (in the guise of a woman) clad in clean garments and bedecked in divine garlands. She was a lady of excellent waist: She had an umbrella raised aloft. She was adorned in rubies. To each of them she severally said: “Do not be afraid. Do reside near me banishing the fear arising from hunger etc.”
After saying thus to those great sages in the course of dream, the divine one entered her own waters and disappeared.
Later, in the morning, the sages joyously said to one another: “The Divinity was seen by me in such and such form in the course of a dream. She was excellent to look at. Freedom from fear has been granted to us (and its) fulfilment too ere long. Undoubtedly the vision of Narmadā is remarkable.”
9-15 Another day, O king, they witnessed along with the members of their family in the vicinity of their own hermitages fishes of excellent form.
After obtaining shoals of fishes with the favour of the great goddess, they sustained themselves day by day along with their wives and sons. Still there were further shoals of fishes, on seeing which they became struck with wonder.
There were the dead Pāṭhīna variety of fishes with well-nourished limbs. O Yuḍhiṣṭhira, at every threshold of the hermitages of these ascetics, these fishes were seen dead.
Thereupon all the residents of the banks of Narmadā became well-nourished and delighted. All the sages eschewed every fear arising from hunger and thirst.
16-23. With those excellent Brāhmaṇas performing Japa and penance for ever, the excellent river shone like the firmament with stars and planets.
Formerly Narmadā, the bestower of piety, was duly demarcated by numerous brilliant Brāhmaṇas who had mastered the Vedas. Narmadā, the bestower of welfare on men, was demarcated by ten crores of sages residing on the banks of Narmadā, the Divinity of well-defined limbs.
With resplendent sacred threads and rosary strings spread on both the banks, O descendant of Bharata, the highly meritorious Narmadā proceeding towards the ocean shone remarkably.
There were several shrines with splendid Liṅgas made of sand and clay, with which the excellent river shone like the night that shines by means of stars.
Propitiating the Suras and Pitṛs thus, all those sages resided on the banks of Narmadā till the ultimate annihilation of all living beings.
Thereafter, a little more than a hundred terrible years elapsed, O descendant of Bharata. Then at midnight, a girl with refulgence like that of a mass of lightning streaks rose up from the water. She had a python serving as the Yajñopavīta. She was gentle in appearance yet. In hand she grasped a trident. She spoke to them then:
24-31. “O ye groups of sages, do come. I am never born of a womb. Do merge unto me along with your sons and wives. Thereby you will achieve Siddhi. I shall grant you the several wishes each one has. I shall take you unto Viṣṇu, Brahmā, Īśāna or any other excellent Sura. Indeed I am the bestower of boons and am pleased. Be engrossed in Prāṇāyāma (‘restraint of breath’) and enter with concentration along with your sons and wives. Leave off your hermitages. You must not waste time. Pralaya is imminent. It is the annihilation of all living beings. The Kalpa conflagration is extremely terrible. I was the only one when there was the highly terrible destruction of people. All the remaining rivers and all the seas have become (dried up and) defunct. Due to the boon granted by Maheśa, I am not annihilated. Sthāṇu, the Lord, is immortal, the eternal Lord. What is it that he will not grant, O excellent Brāhmaṇas, if he is duly adored and prayed to?”
After saying this to the sages, Revā, that Divinity who had grasped a trident with her hand and who had the python serving as a sacred thread, entered the water.
32-39. On hearing her words their minds were overwhelmed with wonder. All of them venerated me and repeatedly craved for my pardon:
“While residing with your support we had uttered certain things which may kindly be forgiven.”
All those highly fortunate ones abandoned their abodes along with their kinsmen and disciples. They recited the Japa of the sole imperishable Brahman (the single-syllabled OM) and meditated on Maheśvara in their hearts. They took their holy ablution in the waters sanctified through Mantras. After having successfully performed their holy Vratas, they entered the waters of Narmadā like winged mountains (entering the sea). With Kuśa grass in their hands and holding the sacred fires, they brightened all the quarters.
O great king, I alone remained there after their departure. I reached Amareśa and adored the river Narmadā. The seven Kalpas beginning with Māyūra were experienced by me, O king, O descendant of Bharata, due to the favour of Vedhas (god Brahmā). I spent all those years along with Revā.
But ever since my birth till to-day, I do not know (the nature of) her former existence. This Narmadā is the Śakti of Śaṅkara, the Kalā named Ilā of Śaṃbhu. She destroys all sins and redeems people from worldly existence.
40-47. O son of Pāṇḍu, in the fourteen earlier Kalpas, when I too was not born, this (divine river) was happily present. In those fourteen earlier Kalpas too Narmadā never ceased to exist. I shall recount them as that Divinity narrated to me.
The list of Kalpas:
Know that the first one is Kāpila; the second one is Prājāpatya. Thereafter the following: Brāhṃa, Saumya, Sāvitra, Bārhaspatya, Prabhāsaka, Māhendra, Agnikalpa, Jayanta, Māruta, Vaiṣṇava, Bahurūpa and Jyautiṣa is the fourteenth. These Kalpas which I enumerated are those in which Narmadā never ceased to be. The fifteenth Kalpa is Māyūra; the sixteenth is Kaurma. Then come the Kalpas: Baka, Mātsya, Pādma and Vaṭakālpa, O descendant of Bharata. The twenty-first current Kalpa is Vārāha. These seven Kalpas were lived through by me along with Ṛevā.
Thus the twenty-one Kalpas lived through by Narmadā born of Śiva have been spoken by me in various ways.
O excellent king, they have been mentioned to you. What more shall I tell you?
Footnotes and references:
The sages do not observe strict vegetarianism. Probably fish was a staple food of North Indian Brāhmaṇas then.
It appears that Brāhmaṇas living on the banks were washed away in the flood of Narmadā.