The Vishnu Purana (abridged)

27,616 words

The Vishnu Purana (Viṣṇu Purāṇa) is a religious Hindu text and one of the (most important) eighteen Mahapuranas. It is also known as Puranaratna ("gem of Puranas"). Presented as a dialogue between Parashara and his disciple Maitreya, the major topics discussed include creation, stories of battles fought between asuras and devas, the Avat...

Ikshvaku, Yuvanashva and Soubhari

Manu happened to sneeze once. As a reult of the sneeze, a son known as Ikshvaku came out of his nose. Ikshvaku’s son was Vikukshi. Ikshvaku wished to perform a shradha ceremony and sent his son off to the forest to bring meat for the ceremony. Vikukshi killed many deer and felt hungry and tired. To satisfy his hunger he ate a rabbit and brought theother meat to his father, who then offered the meat to Vashishtha who was looking after the ceremony.

“This meat is unclean,” said the sage, “your son has already eaten the meat of a rabbit.”

Ikshvaku banished Vikukshi, although Vikukshi did rule the kingdom after Ikshvaku died. Vikukshi had a very brave son called Paranjaya. The devas and the asuras once fought a terrifble war and the devas could not defeat the asuras. The devas prayed to Vishnu and Vishnu told them that he would be born on earth as Paranjaya. Under Paranjaya’s leadership, the devas would be able to defeat the asuras. So the gods came to paranjaya and asked him to be their leader in this war. Paranjaya agreed to do this only if he could fight te war perched on Indra’s shoulders. Indra adopted the form of a bull. Paranjaya fought the war seated on the bull. The demons wre defeated. But from the word kakut, which means shoulder. Paranjaya hereafter came to be known as Kakutstha.

Among Kakutstha’s descendants was a king called Yuvanashva. Yuvanashva did not have any son. He persuaded the sages to perform a yajna so that he might have a son. The ceremony finished at midnight and the sages kept the sacred waters of the yajna in a pot for the night. The intention was to give the sacred waters to Yuvanashva’s wife to drink in the morning. Then she would have a strong son. But Yuvanashva felt very thirsty in the night. And without knowing that the waters in the pot was sacred, drank them by mistake. So a baby came into Yuvanashva’s body and grew bigger and bigger. When the time came for the baby to be born, it burst out through the king’s right side, although the king did not die. But the problem was, who would be a mother to the baby? Given the peculiar circumstances, Indra agreed to be the mother. He came and said, “Mam dhata,” which means “I will be the nurse.” The baby thus came to be known as Mandhata. Because Indra was rearing him, he became fully grown in a single day. He ruled the entire world from where the sun rises to where it sets.

During Mandhata’s reign, a sage named Soubhari lived under the water for twelve years. He used to see the king of the fishes playin the water with his children and grandchildren. This made Soubhari feel that he should also have children and grandchildren. But to do this, he needed to get married.

Mandhata had fifty daughters. Soubhari went to Mandhata and wanted one of these daughters in marriage. Mandhata did not like the look of Soubhari’s diseased body. But at the same time, he was scared that he might be cursed if he refused. So he said that the custom of his family was that daughters married bridegrooms whom they chose and approved of. Soubhari realized that this was merely a ploy of Mandhata’s to avoid giving a daughter in marriage to a diseased old man. Soubhari therefore requested that he might be given one chance to meet the daughters of Mandhata. If any one of them wished to marry him, only then would he marry. If all of them refused to marry him, he would go away and no more would be heard of the matter.

This seemed to be a reasonable enough request and Mandhata agreed. But Soubhari was a powerful sage. Before meeting the daughters, he transformed himself into a very handsome man. He was so handsome that all the daughters wished to marry him. The result was that Soubhari was married to all the fifty daughters and took them to his ashrama. He then called Vishvakarama and asked Vishvakarma to build separate palaces for the fifty wives. Each palace was to have a like with lotuses and swans, each palace was to have a pleasure garden and beautiful beds, seats and jewels. Vishvakarma did as he had been instructed.

After some days, Mandhata wished to find out how his daughters were. He came to the ashrama and saw the beautiful palaces and pleasure gardens. He entered one of the palaces and met one of his daughters there. “How are you, daughter?”, he asked.

“I live in a wondeful palace, father,” the daughter replied. “Look at this pleasure garden, look at these beautiufl birds and the gorgeous lake. I eat good food and wear nice clothes and jewels. I am very happy. The only complaint that I have is this. My husband spends all his time with me, he never leaves me. This means that he must be neglecting my sisters.”

Mandhata came out of this palace and went into another. To his great surprise, the second daughter said exactly the same thing. In fact, this is what all the daughters said. For what had happened was that Soubhari had created fifty different forms of himself with the powers of his tapasya. Mandhata had never witnessed anything like this. He fell down at Soubhari’s feet and begged for forgiveness.

Soubhari had a hundred and fifty sons to whom he got quite attached. But after some time he realized the dangers of such attachment. It had made him deviate from his path of tapasya. He realized the illusions he had been living with ever since he had seen the king of the fishes. He devoted the rest of his life to Vishnu.

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