The Vishnu Purana

by Horace Hayman Wilson | 1840 | 287,946 words | ISBN-10: 8171102127

The English translation of the Vishnu Purana. This is a primary sacred text of the Vaishnava branch of Hinduism. It is one of the eighteen greater Puranas, a branch of sacred Vedic literature which was first committed to writing during the first millennium of the common era. Like most of the other Puranas, this is a complete narrative from the cr...

2. The Padma Purāṇa

2. Padma Purāṇa. “That which contains an account of the period when the world was a golden lotus (padma), and of all the occurrences of that time, is therefore called the Pādma by the wise: it contains fifty-five thousand stanzas[1].” The second Purāṇa in the usual lists is always the Pādma, a very voluminous work, containing, according to its own statement, as well as that of other authorities, fifty-five thousand slokas; an amount not far from the truth. These are divided amongst five books, or Khaṇḍas; 1. the Sṛṣṭi Khaṇḍa, or section on creation; 2. the Bhūmi Khaṇḍa, description of the earth; 3. the Svarga Khaṇḍa, chapter on heaven; 4. Pātāla Khaṇḍa, chapter on the regions below the earth; and 5. the Uttara Khaṇḍa, last or supplementary chapter. There is also current a sixth division, the Kriyā Yoga Sāra, a treatise on the practice of devotion.

The denominations of these divisions of the Padma P. convey but an imperfect and partial notion of their contents. In the first, or section which treats of creation, the narrator is Ugraśravas the Sūta, the son of Lomaharṣaṇa, who is sent by his father to the Ṛṣis at Naimiṣārāṇya to communicate to them the Purāṇa, which, from its containing an account of the lotus (padma), in which Brahmā appeared at creation, is termed the Pādma or Padma Purāṇa. The Sūta repeats what was originally communicated by Brahmā to Pulastya, and by him to Bhīṣma. The early chapters narrate the cosmogony, and the genealogy of the patriarchal families, much in the same style, and often in the same words, as the Viṣṇu; and short accounts of the Manvantaras and regal dynasties: but these, which are legitimate Paurāṇik matters, soon make way for new and unauthentic inventions, illustrative of the virtues of the lake of Puṣkara, or Pokher in Ajmir, as a place of pilgrimage.

The Bhūmi Khaṇḍa, or section of the earth, defers any description of the earth until near its close, filling up one hundred and twenty-seven chapters with legends of a very mixed description, some ancient and common to other Purāṇas, but the greater part peculiar to itself, illustrative of Tīrthas either figuratively so termed—as a wife, a parent, or a Guru, considered as a sacred object—or places to which actual pilgrimage should be performed.

The Svarga Khaṇḍa describes in the first chapters the relative positions of the Lokas or spheres above the earth, placing above all Vaikuṇtha, the sphere of Viṣṇu; an addition which is not warranted by what appears to be the oldest cosmology[2]. Miscellaneous notices of some of the most celebrated princes then succeed, conformably to the usual narratives; and these are followed by rules of conduct for the several castes, and at different stages of life. The rest of the book is occupied by legends of a diversified description, introduced without much method or contrivance; a few of which, as Dakṣa's sacrifice, are of ancient date, but of which the most are original and modern.

The Pātāla Khaṇḍa devotes a brief introduction to the description of Pātāla, the regions of the snake-gods; but the name of Rāma having been mentioned, Śeṣa, who has succeeded Pulastya as spokesman, proceeds to narrate the history of Rāma, his descent and his posterity; in which the compiler seems to have taken the poem of Kālidaśa, the Raghu Vaṃśa, for his chief authority. An originality of addition may be suspected, however, in the adventures of the horse destined by Rāma for an Aśvamedha, which form the subject of a great many chapters. When about to be sacrificed, the horse turns out to be a Brahman, condemned by an imprecation of Durvāsas, a sage, to assume the equine nature, and who, by having been sanctified by connexion with Rāma, is released from his metamorphosis, and dispatched as a spirit of light to heaven. This piece of Vaiṣṇava fiction is followed by praises of the Śrī Bhāgavata, an account of Kṛṣṇa's juvenilities, and the merits of worshipping Viṣṇu. These accounts are communicated through a machinery borrowed from the Tantras: they are told by Sadāśiva to Pārvati, the ordinary interlocutors of Tāntrika compositions.

The Uttara Khaṇḍa is a most voluminous aggregation of very heterogeneous matters, but it is consistent in adopting a decidedly Vaiṣṇava tone, and admitting no compromise with any other form of faith. The chief subjects are first discussed in a dialogue between king Dilīpa and the Muni Vaśiṣṭha; such as the merits of bathing in the month of Māgha, and the potency of the Mantra or prayer addressed to Lakṣmī Nārāyaṇa. But the nature of Bhakti, faith in Viṣṇu—the use of Vaiṣṇava marks on the body—the legends of Viṣṇu's Avatāras, and especially of Rāma—and the construction of images of Viṣṇu—are too important to be left to mortal discretion: they are explained by Śiva to Pārvati, and wound up by the adoration of Viṣṇu by those divinities. The dialogue then reverts to the king and the sage; and the latter states why Viṣṇu is the only one of the triad entitled to respect; Śiva being licentious, Brahmā arrogant, and Viṣṇu alone pure. Vaśiṣṭha then repeats, after Śiva, the Māhātmya of the Bhagavad Gītā; the merit of each book of which is illustrated by legends of the good consequences to individuals from perusing or hearing it. Other Vaiṣṇava Māhātmyas occupy considerable portions of this Khaṇḍa, especially the Kārtīka Māhātmya, or holiness of the month Kartika, illustrated as usual by stories, a few of which are of an early origin, but the greater part modern, and peculiar to this Purāṇa[3].

The Kriyā Yoga Sāra is repeated by Sūta to the Ṛṣis, after Vyāsa's communication of it to Jaimini, in answer to an inquiry how religious merit might be secured in the Kālī age, in which men have become incapable of the penances and abstraction by which final liberation was formerly to be attained. The answer is, of course, that which is intimated in the last hook of the Viṣṇu Purāṇa—personal devotion to Viṣṇu: thinking of him, repeating his names, wearing his marks, worshipping in his temples, are a full substitute for all other acts of moral or devotional or contemplative merit.

The different portions of the Padma Purāṇa are in all probability as many different works, neither of which approaches to the original definition of a Purāṇa. There may be some connexion between the three first portions, at least as to time; but there is no reason to consider them as of high antiquity. They specify the Jains both by name and practices.; they talk of Mlecchas, ‘barbarians,’ flourishing in India; they commend the use of the frontal and other Vaiṣṇava marks; and they notice other subjects which, like these, are of no remote origin. The Pātāla Khaṇḍa dwells copiously upon the Bhāgavata, and is consequently posterior to it. The Uttara Khaṇḍa is intolerantly Vaiṣṇava, and is therefore unquestionably modern. It enjoins the veneration of the Sālāgram stone and Tulasī plant, the use of the Tapta-mudra, or stamping with a hot iron the name of Viṣṇu on the skin, and a variety of practices and observances undoubtedly no part of the original system. It speaks of the shrines of Śrī-raṅgam and Venkatādri in the Dekhin, temples that have no pretension to remote antiquity; and it names Haripur on the Tuṅgabhadra, which is in all likelihood the city of Vijayanagar, founded in the middle of the fourteenth century. The Kriyā Yoga Sāra is equally a modern, and apparently a Bengali composition. No portion of the Padma Purāṇa is probably older than the twelfth century, and the last parts may be as recent as the fifteenth or sixteenth[4].

Footnotes and references:


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One of them, the story of Jalandhara is translated by Col. Vans Kennedy: Affinities of Ancient and Hindu Mythology, Appendix D.


The grounds of these conclusions are more particularly detailed in my Analysis of the Padma P.: J. R. As. Soc. vol. V. p. 280.

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