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...

7. The Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa

7. Mārkaṇḍa or Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa. “That Purāṇa in which, commencing with the story of the birds that were acquainted with right and wrong, every thing is narrated fully by Mārkaṇḍeya, as it was explained by holy sages in reply to the question of the Muni, is called the Mārkaṇḍeya, containing nine thousand verses[1].” This is so called from its being in the first instance narrated by Mārkaṇḍeya Muni, and in the second place by certain fabulous birds; thus far agreeing with the account given of it in the Matsya. That, as well as other authorities, specify its containing nine thousand stanzas; but my copy closes with a verse affirming that the number of verses recited by the Muni was six thousand nine hundred; and a copy in the East India Company's library has a similar specification. The termination is, however, somewhat abrupt, and there is no reason why the subject with which it ends should not have been carried on farther. One copy in the Company's library, indeed, belonging to the Guicowar's collection, states at the close that it is the end of the first Khaṇḍa, or section. If the Purāṇa was ever completed, the remaining portion of it appears to be lost.

Jaimini, the pupil of Vyāsa, applies to Mārkaṇḍeya to be made acquainted with the nature of Vāsudeva, and for an explanation of some of the incidents described in the Mahābhārata; with the ambrosia of which divine poem, Vyāsa he declares has watered the whole world: a reference which establishes the priority of the Bhārata to the Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa, however incompatible this may be with the tradition, that having finished the Purāṇas, Vyāsa wrote the poem.

Mārkaṇḍeya excuses himself, saying he has a religious rite to perform; and he refers Jaimini to some very sapient birds, who reside in the Vindhya mountains; birds of a celestial origin, found, when just born, by the Muni Śamīka, on the field of Kurukṣetra, and brought up by him along with his scholars: in consequence of which, and by virtue of their heavenly descent, they became profoundly versed in the Vedas, and a knowledge of spiritual truth. This machinery is borrowed from the Mahābhārata, with some embellishment. Jaimini accordingly has recourse to the birds, Piṅgākṣa and his brethren, and puts to them the questions he had asked of the Muni. “Why was Vāsudeva born as a mortal? How was it that Draupadī was the wife of the five Pāṇḍus? Why did Baladeva do penance for Brahmanicide? and why were the children of Draupadī destroyed, when they had Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna to defend them?” The answers to these inquiries occupy a number of chapters, and form a sort of supplement to the Mahābhārata; supplying, partly by invention, perhaps, and partly by reference to equally ancient authorities, the blanks left in some of its narrations.

Legends of Vritrāsura's death, Baladeva's penance, Hariścandra's elevation to heaven, and the quarrel between Vaśiṣṭha and Visvāmitra, are followed by a discussion respecting birth, death, and sin; which leads to a more extended description of the different hells than is found in other Purāṇas. The account of creation which is contained in this work is repeated by the birds after Mārkaṇḍeya's account of it to Kroṣṭuki, and is confined to the origin of the Vedas and patriarchal families, amongst whom are new characters, as Duhsaha and his wife Mārṣṭi, and their descendants; allegorical personages, representing intolerable iniquity and its consequences. There is then a description of the world, with, as usual to this Purāṇa, several singularities, some of which are noticed in the following pages. This being the state of the world in the Svāyambhuva Manvantara, an account of the other Manvantaras succeeds, in which the births of the Manus, and a number of other particulars, are peculiar to this work. The present or Vaivaswata Manvantara is very briefly passed over; but the next, the first of the future Manvantaras, contains the long episodical narrative of the actions of the goddess Durgā, which is the especial boast of this Purāṇa, and is the text-book of the worshippers of Kāli, Caṇḍī, or Durgā, in Bengal. It is the Caṇḍī Pātha, or Durgā Māhātmya, in which the victories of the goddess over different evil beings, or Asuras, are detailed with considerable power and spirit. It is read daily in the temples of Durgā, and furnishes the pomp and circumstance of the great festival of Bengal, the Durgā pujā, or public worship of that goddess[2].

After the account of the Manvantaras is completed, there follows a series of legends, some new, some old, relating to the sun and his posterity; continued to Vaivaswata Manu and his sons, and their immediate descendants; terminating with Dama, the son of Nariṣyanta[3]. Of most of the persons noticed, the work narrates particulars not found elsewhere.

This Purāṇa has a character different from that of all the others. It has nothing of a sectarial spirit, little of a religious tone, rarely inserting prayers and invocations to any deity, and such as are inserted are brief and moderate. It deals little in precepts, ceremonial or moral. Its leading feature is narrative, and it presents an uninterrupted succession of legends, most of which, when ancient, are embellished with new circumstances; and when new, partake so far of the spirit of the old, that they are disinterested creations of the imagination, having no particular motive; being designed to recommend no special doctrine or observance. Whether they are derived from any other source, or whether they are original inventions, it is not possible to ascertain. They are most probably, for the greater part at least, original; and the whole has been narrated in the compiler's own manner, a manner superior to that of the Purāṇas in general, with exception of the Bhāgavata.

It is not easy to conjecture a date for this Purāṇa: it is subsequent to the Mahābhārata, but how long subsequent is doubtful. It is unquestionably more ancient than such works as the Brahmā, Padma, and Nāradīya Purāṇas; and its freedom from sectarial bias is a reason for supposing it anterior to the Bhāgavata. At the same time, its partial conformity to the definition of a Purāṇa, and the tenor of the additions which it has made to received legends and traditions, indicate a not very remote age; and, in the absence of any guide to a more positive conclusion, it may conjecturally be placed in the ninth or tenth century.

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A translation into English by a Madras Pandit, Kāvali Venkata Rāmasvāmi, was published at Calcutta in 1823.


See Viṣṇu P., p. 253. n. 22.

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