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...

There were many powerful kings among Mandhata’s descendants. One of these was Purukutsa. Many years ago, the underworld was occupied by the gandharvas. They upset the rule of the snakes (nagas) and stole their jewels. The besieged nagas prayed to Vishnu for deliverance. Vishnu told them that he would enter Purukutsa’s body and thus destroy the gandharvas. The nagas sent the river Narmada to bring Purukutsa down to the underworld and Purukutsa destroyed all the gandharvas. The happy sankes grated Narmada a boon. Whoever says, “I pray to Narmada morning and evening; Narmada, protect me from snake poison, ” will never be bitten by snakes.

In the same dynasty was born King Vahu. Vahu lost a war with some other kings and went to the forest with his wife. There Vahu’s wife was about to give birth to a baby. But Vahu had another wife as well. And out of jealousy, the second wife gave the first wife some poison. The result was that the baby did not come out but stayed inside the mother for seven years. King Vahu died in the hermitage of the sage Ourva. And Vahnu’s wife also wished to die on the funeral pyre.

But Ourva told her, “Queen, what are you doing? You are carrying a son who will be the bravest of the brave. He will conquer many lands and perform many sacrifices. Don’t die on the funeral pyre.”

The son was born and Ourva named the child Sagara. He taught the boy the Vedas, the shastras and the art of fighting. When he grew up, Sagara wished to win back his father’s lost kingdom. He defeated the enemy kings and ruled over the entire world.

Sagara had two wives, Sumati and Keshini. These two prayed to Ourva that they might have sons. Ourva granted them the boon that one of them would have a single son, while the other would have sixty thousand sons. This is what happened and Keshini’s son was called Asamanjas. But all these sons turned out to be quite evil. The gods went to the sage Kapila and asked him to rescue the world from the bad deeds of Sagara’s sons.

At the time, King Sagara was performing an ashvamedha yajna (horse sacrifice) and his sons were the protectors of the sacrifical horse. Someone stole this horse and took it down to the underworld. The sons of Sagara looked for the horse and followed its trail down to the underworld. They found the horse wandering around in the underworld and not far from the house, they saw the sage Kapila. They concluded that Kapila must have stolen the horse and attacked the sage with their weapons. But a terrible fire issued out of Kapila’s eyes and reduced Sagara’s sons into ashes.

Asamanjas had a son known as Amshumana. On learning that this sons had been burnt into ashes, Sagara sent Amshumana to fetch the horse. Amshumana went to Kapila and began to pray to him. Pleased at this, Kapila offered to grant Amshumana a boon and Amshumana desired that his uncles might go to heaven.

Kapila said, “Your grandson will bring down the river Ganga from heaven. When the water of the Ganga touches the bones of your uncles, they will ascend to heaven.”

Amshumana’s son was Dilipa and Dilipa’s son was Bhagiratha. It was Bhagiratha who brought Ganga down from heaven. That is why Ganga is also known as Bhagirathi.

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