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...

4. The Vāyavīya Purāṇa

4. “The Purāṇa in which Vāyu has declared the laws of duty, in connexion with the Sweta Kalpa, and which comprises the Māhātmya of Rudra, is the Vāyavīya Purāṇa: it contains twenty-four thousand verses[1].” The Śiva or Śaiva Purāṇa is, as above remarked, omitted in some of the lists; and in general, when that is the case, it is replaced by the Vāyu or Vāyavīya. When the Śiva is specified, as in the Bhāgavata, then the Vāyu is omitted; intimating the possible identity of these two works. This indeed is confirmed by the Matsya, which describes the Vāyavīya Purāṇa as characterised by its account of the greatness of Rudra or Siva[2]; and Balambhaṭṭa mentions that the Vāyavīya is also called the Śaiva, though, according to some, the latter is the name of an Upa-purāṇa. Col. Vans Kennedy observes, that in the west of India the Śaiva is commonly considered to be an Upa or ‘minor’ Purāṇa[3].

Another proof that the same work is intended by the authorities here followed, the Bhāgavata and Matsya, under different appellations, is their coñcurrence in the extent of the work, each specifying its verses to be twenty-four thousand. A copy of the Śiva Purāṇa, of which an index and analysis have been prepared, does not contain more than about seven thousand: it cannot therefore be the Śiva Purāṇa of the Bhāgavata; and we may safely consider that to be the same as the Vāyavīya of the Matsya[4].

The Vāyu Purāṇa is narrated by Sūta to the Ṛṣis at Naimiṣāraṇya, as it was formerly told at the same place to similar persons by Vāyu; a repetition of circumstances not uncharacteristic of the inartificial style of this Purāṇa. It is divided into four Pādas, termed severally Prakriyā, Upodghāta, Anuṣanga, and Upasanhāra; a classification peculiar to this work. These are preceded by an index, or heads of chapters, in the manner of the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa; another peculiarity.

The Prakriyā portion contains but a few chapters, and treats chiefly of elemental creation, and the first evolutions of beings, to the same purport as the Viṣṇu, but in a more obscure and unmethodical style. The Upodghāta then continues the subject of creation, and describes the various Kalpas or periods during which the world has existed; a greater number of which is specified by the Śaiva than by the Vaiṣṇava Purāṇas. Thirty-three are here described, the last of which is the Sweta or ‘white’ Kalpa, from Śiva's being born in it of a white complexion. The genealogies of the patriarchs, the description of the universe, and the incidents of the first six Manwantaras, are all treated of in this part of the work; but they are intermixed with legends and praises of Śiva, as the sacrifice of Dakṣa, the Maheśvara Māhātmya, the Nilakāntha Stotra, and others. The genealogies, although in the main the same as those in the Vaiṣṇava Purāṇas, present some variations. A long account of the Pitris or progenitors is also peculiar to this Purāṇa; as are stories of some of the most celebrated Ṛṣis, who were engaged in the distribution of the Vedas.

The third division commences with an account of the seven Ṛṣis and their descendants, and describes the origin of the different classes of creatures from the daughters of Dakṣa, with a profuse copiousness of nomenclature, not found in any other Purāṇa. With exception of the greater minuteness of detail, the particulars agree with those of the Viṣṇu P. A chapter then occurs on the worship of the Pitris; another on Tīrthas, or places sacred to them; and several on the performance of Srāddhas, constituting the Srāddha Kalpa. After this, comes a full account of the solar and lunar dynasties, forming a parallel to that in the following pages, with this difference, that it is throughout in verse, whilst that of our text, as noticed in its place, is chiefly in prose. It is extended also by the insertion of detailed accounts of various incidents, briefly noticed in the Viṣṇu, though derived apparently from a common original. The section terminates with similar accounts of future kings, and the same chronological calculations, that are found in the Viṣṇu.

The last portion, the Upasanhāra, describes briefly the future Manwantaras, the measures of space and time, the end of the world, the efficacy of Yoga, and the glories of Śiva-pura, or the dwelling of Śiva, with whom the Yogi is to be united. The manuscript concludes with a different history of the successive teachers of the Vāyu Purāṇa, tracing them from Brahmā to Vāyu, from Vāyu to Vrihaspati, and from him, through various deities and sages, to Dwaipāyaṇa and Śūta.

The account given of this Purāṇa in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal was limited to something less than half the work, as I had not then been able to procure a larger portion. I have now a more complete one of my own, and there are several copies in the East India Company's library of the like extent. One, presented by His Highness the Guicowar, is dated Samvat 1540, or A. D. 1483, and is evidently as old as it professes to be. The examination I have made of the work confirms the view I formerly took of it; and from the internal evidence it affords, it may perhaps be regarded as one of the oldest and most authentic specimens extant of a primitive Purāṇa.

It appears, however, that we have not yet a copy of the entire Vāyu Purāṇa. The extent of it, as mentioned above, should be twenty-four thousand verses. The Guicowar MS. has but twelve thousand, and is denominated the Pūrvārddha, or first portion. My copy is of the like extent. The index also spews that several subjects remain untold; as, subsequently to the description of the sphere of Śiva, and the periodical dissolution of the world, the work is said to contain an account of a succeeding creation, and of various events that occurred in it, as the birth of several celebrated Ṛṣis, including that of Vyāsa, and a description of his distribution of the Vedas; an account of the enmity between Vaśiṣṭha and Visvāmitra; and a Naimiṣāraṇya Māhātmya. These topics are, however, of minor importance, and can scarcely carry the Purāṇa to the whole extent of the verses which it is said to contain. If the number is accurate, the index must still omit a considerable portion of the subsequent contents.

Footnotes and references:


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Commentary on the Mitākṣarā, Vyavahāra Kāṇḍa.


As. Journ., March 1837, p. 242, note.


Analysis of the Vāyu Purāṇa: Journ. As. Soc. of Bengal, December 1832.

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