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...

Chapter IV - Narayana appearance, in the beginning of the Kalpa, as the Varaha (boar)

Nārāyaṇa's appearance, in the beginning of the Kalpa, as the Varṣa or boar: Prithivī (Earth) addresses him: he raises the world from beneath the waters: hymned by Sanandana and the Yogis. The earth floats on the ocean: divided into seven zones. The lower spheres of the universe restored. Creation renewed.

Maitreya said:—

Tell me, mighty sage, how, in the commencement of the (present) Kalpa, Nārāyaṇa, who is named Brahmā, created all existent things[1].

Parāśara said:—

In what manner the divine Brahmā, who is one with Nārāyaṇa, created progeny, and is thence named the lord of progeny (Prajāpati), the lord god, you shall hear.

At the close of the past (or Pādma) Kalpa, the divine Brahmā, endowed with the quality of goodness, awoke from his night of sleep, and beheld the universe void. He, the supreme Nārāyaṇa, the incomprehensible, the sovereign of all creatures, invested with the form of Brahmā, the god without beginning, the creator of all things; of whom, with respect to his name Nārāyaṇa, the god who has the form of Brahmā, the imperishable origin of the world, this verse is repeated, “The waters are called Nārā, because they were the offspring of Nara (the supreme spirit); and as in them his first (Ayana) progress (in the character of Brahmā) took place, he is thence named Nārāyaṇa (he whose place of moving was the waters)[2].” He, the lord, concluding that within the waters lay the earth, and being desirous to raise it up, created another form for that purpose; and as in preceding Kalpas he had assumed the shape of a fish or a tortoise, so in this he took the figure of a boar. Having adopted a form composed of the sacrifices of the Vedas[3], for the preservation of the whole earth, the eternal, supreme, and universal soul, the great progenitor of created beings, eulogized by Sanaka and the other saints who dwell in the sphere of holy men (Janaloka); he, the supporter of spiritual and material being, plunged into the ocean. The goddess Earth, beholding him thus descending to the subterrene regions, bowed in devout adoration, and thus glorified the god:—

Prīthivī (Earth).—Hail to thee, who art all creatures; to thee, the holder of the mace and shell: elevate me now from this place, as thou hast upraised me in days of old. From thee have I proceeded; of thee do I consist; as do the skies, and all other existing things. Hail to thee, spirit of the supreme spirit; to thee, soul of soul; to thee, who art discrete and indiscrete matter; who art one with the elements and with time. Thou art the creator of all things, their preserver, and their destroyer, in the forms, oh lord, of Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Rudra, at the seasons of creation, duration, and dissolution. When thou hast devoured all things, thou reposest on the ocean that sweeps over the world, meditated upon, oh Govinda, by the wise. No one knoweth thy true nature, and the gods adore thee only in the forms it bath pleased thee to assume. They who are desirous of final liberation, worship thee as the supreme Brahmā; and who that adores not Vāsudeva, shall obtain emancipation? Whatever may be apprehended by the mind, whatever may be perceived by the senses, whatever may he discerned by the intellect, all is but a form of thee. I am of thee, upheld by thee; thou art my creator, and to thee I fly for refuge: hence, in this universe, Mādhavī (the bride of Mādhava or Viṣṇu) is my designation. Triumph to the essence of all wisdom, to the unchangeable, the imperishable: triumph to the eternal; to the indiscrete, to the essence of discrete things: to him who is both cause and effect; who is the universe; the sinless lord of sacrifice[4]; triumph. Thou art sacrifice; thou art the oblation; thou art the mystic Omkāra; thou art the sacrificial fires; thou art the Vedas, and their dependent sciences; thou art, Hari, the object of all worship[5]. The sun, the stars, the planets, the whole world; all that is formless, or that has form; all that is visible, or invisible; all, Puruṣottama, that I have said, or left unsaid; all this, Supreme, thou art. Hail to thee, again and again! hail! all hail!

Parāśara said:—

The auspicious supporter of the world, being thus hymned by the earth, emitted a low murmuring sound, like the chanting of the Sāma veda; and the mighty boar, whose eyes were like the lotus, and whose body, vast as the Nīla mountain, was of the dark colour of the lotus leaves[6], uplifted upon his ample tusks the earth from the lowest regions. As he reared up his head, the waters shed from his brow purified the great sages, Sanandana and others, residing in the sphere of the saints. Through the indentations made by his hoofs, the waters rushed into the lower worlds with a thundering noise. Before his breath, the pious denizens of Janaloka were scattered, and the Munis sought for shelter amongst the bristles upon the scriptural body of the boar, trembling as he rose up, supporting the earth, and dripping with moisture. Then the great sages, Sanandana and the rest, residing continually in the sphere of saints, were inspired with delight, and bowing lowly they praised the stern-eyed upholder of the earth.

The Yogis.—Triumph, lord of lords supreme; Keśava, sovereign of the earth, the wielder of the mace, the shell, the discus, and the sword: cause of production, destruction, and existence. THOU ART, oh god: there is no other supreme condition, but thou. Thou, lord, art the person of sacrifice: for thy feet are the Vedas; thy tusks are the stake to which the victim is bound; in thy teeth are the offerings; thy mouth is the altar; thy tongue is the fire; and the hairs of thy body are the sacrificial grass. Thine eyes, oh omnipotent, are day and night; thy head is the seat of all, the place of Brahma; thy mane is all the hymns of the Vedas; thy nostrils are all oblations: oh thou, whose snout is the ladle of oblation; whose deep voice is the chanting of the Sāma veda; whose body is the hall of sacrifice; whose joints are the different ceremonies; and whose ears have the properties of both voluntary and obligatory rites[7]: do thou, who art eternal, who art in size a mountain, be propitious. We acknowledge thee, who hast traversed the world, oh universal form, to be the beginning, the continuance, and the destruction of all things: thou art the supreme god. Have pity on us, oh lord of conscious and unconscious beings. The orb of the earth is seen seated on the tip of thy tusks, as if thou hadst been sporting amidst a lake where the lotus floats, and hadst borne away the leaves covered with soil. The space between heaven and earth is occupied by thy body, oh thou of unequalled glory, resplendent with the power of pervading the universe, oh lord, for the benefit of all. Thou art the aim of all: there is none other than thee, sovereign of the world: this is thy might, by which all things, fixed or movable, are pervaded. This form, which is now beheld, is thy form, as one essentially with wisdom. Those who have not practised devotion, conceive erroneously of the nature of the world. The ignorant, who do not perceive that this universe is of the nature of wisdom, and judge of it as an object of perception only, are lost in the ocean of spiritual ignorance. But they who know true wisdom, and whose minds are pure, behold this whole world as one with divine knowledge, as one with thee, oh god. Be favourable, oh universal spirit: raise up this earth, for the habitation of created beings. Inscrutable deity, whose eyes are like lotuses, give us felicity. Oh lord, thou art endowed with the quality of goodness: raise up, Govinda, this earth, for the general good. Grant us happiness, oh lotus-eyed. May this, thy activity in creation, be beneficial to the earth. Salutation to thee. Grant us happiness, oh lotus-eyed.

Parāśara said:—

The supreme being thus eulogized, upholding the earth, raised it quickly, and placed it on the summit of the ocean, where it floats like a mighty vessel, and from its expansive surface does not sink beneath the waters. Then, having levelled the earth, the great eternal deity divided it into portions, by mountains: he who never wills in vain, created, by his irresistible power, those mountains again upon the earth which had been consumed at the destruction of the world. Having then divided the earth into seven great portions or continents, as it was before, he constructed in like manner the four (lower) spheres, earth, sky, heaven, and the sphere of the sages (Maharloka). Thus Hari, the four-faced god, invested with the quality of activity, and taking the form of Brahmā, accomplished the creation: but he (Brahmā) is only the instrumental cause of things to be created; the things that are capable of being created arise from nature as a common material cause: with exception of one instrumental cause alone, there is no need of any other cause, for (imperceptible) substance becomes perceptible substance according to the powers with which it is originally imbued[8].

This page consists solely of footnotes

Footnotes and references:


This creation is of the secondary order, or Pratiserga; water, and even the earth, being in existence, and consequently having been preceded by the creation of Mahat and the elements. It is also a different Pratiserga from that described by Manu, in which Swayambhu first creates the waters, then the egg: one of the simplest forms, and perhaps therefore one of the earliest in which the tradition occurs.


This is the well known verse of Menu, I. 8, rendered by Sir Wm. Jones, “The waters are called Nārā, because they were the production of Nara, or ‘the spirit’ of God; and since they were his first Ayana, or place of motion, he thence is named Nārāyaṇa, or ‘moving on the waters.’” Now although there can be little doubt that this tradition is in substance the same as that of Genesis, the language of the translation is perhaps more scriptural than p. 28 is quite warranted. The waters, it is said in the text of Manu, were the progeny of Nara, which Kullūka Bhaṭṭa explains Paramātmā, the supreme soul; that is, they were the first productions of God in creation. Ayana, instead of ‘place of motion,’ is explained by Āsraya, place of abiding.' Nārāyaṇa means, therefore, he whose place of abiding was the deep. The verse occurs in several of the Purāṇas, in general in nearly the same words, and almost always as a quotation, as in our text The Liṅga, Vāyu, and Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇas, citing the same, have a somewhat different reading; or, ‘Āpa (is the same as) Nārā, or bodies (Tanava); such, we have heard (from the Vedas), is the meaning of Apa. He who sleeps in them, is thence called Nārāyaṇa.’ The ordinary sense of Tanu is either ‘minute’ or ‘body,’ nor does it occur amongst the synonymes of water in the Nirukta of the Vedas. It may perhaps be intended to say, that Nārā or Apa has the meaning of ‘bodily forms,’ in which spirit is enshrined, and of which the waters, with Viṣṇu resting upon them, are a type; for there is much mysticism in the Purāṇas in which the passage thus occurs. Even in them, however, it is introduced in the usual manner, by describing the world as water alone, and Viṣṇu reposing upon the deep: ### Vāyu P. The Bhāgavata has evidently attempted to explain the ancient text: ‘When the embodied god in the beginning divided the mundane egg, and issued forth, then, requiring an abiding-place, he created the waters: the pure created the pure. In them, his own created, he abode for a thousand years, and thence received the name of Nārāyaṇa: the waters being the product of the embodied deity:’ i. e. they were the product of Nara or Viṣṇu, as the first male or Virāt, and were therefore termed Nāra: and from there being his Ayana or Sthāna, his ‘abiding place,’ comes his epithet of Nārāyaṇa.


The Varāha form was chosen, says the Vāyu P., because it is an animal delighting to sport in water, but it is described in many Purāṇas, as it is in the Viṣṇu, as a type of the ritual of the Vedas, as we shall have further occasion to remark. The elevation of the earth from beneath the ocean in this form, was, therefore, probably at first an allegorical representation of the extrication of the world from a deluge of iniquity by the rites of religion. Geologists may perhaps suspect, in the original and unmystified tradition, an allusion to a geological fact, or the existence of lacustrine mammalia in the early periods of the earth.


Yajñapati, ‘the bestower of the beneficial results of sacrifices.’


Yajñapuruṣa, ‘the male or soul of sacrifice;’ explained by Yajñamūrtti, ‘the form or personification of sacrifice;’ or Yajñārādhya ‘he who is to be propitiated by it.’


Varāha Avatāra. The description of the figure of the boar is much more particularly detailed in other Purāṇas. As in the Vāyu: “The boar was ten Yojanas in breadth, a thousand Yojanas high; of the colour of a dark cloud; and his roar was like thunder; his bulk was vast as a mountain; his tusks were white, sharp, and fearful; fire flashed from his eyes like lightning, and he was radiant as the sun; his shoulders were round, flit, and large; he strode along like a powerful lion; his haunches were fat, his loins were slender, and his body was smooth and beautiful.” The Matsya P. describes the Varāha in the same words, with one or two unimportant varieties. The Bhāgavata indulges in that amplification which marks its more recent composition, and describes the Varāha as issuing from the nostrils of Brahmā, at first of the size of the thumb, or an inch long, and presently increasing to the stature of an elephant. That work also subjoins a legend of the death of the demon Hiranyākṣa, who in a preceding existence was one of Viṣṇu's doorkeepers, at his palace in Vaikuntha. Having refused admission to a party of Munis, they cursed him, and he was in consequence born as one of the sons of Diti. When the earth, oppressed by the weight of the mountains, sunk down into the waters, Viṣṇu was beheld in the subterrene regions, or Rasātala, by Hiranyākṣa in the act of carrying it off. The demon claimed the earth, and defied Viṣṇu to combat; and a conflict took place, in which Hiranyākṣa was slain. This legend has not been met with in any other Purāṇa, and certainly does not occur in the chief of them, any more than in our text. In the Mokṣa Dherma of the Mahābhārata, e.35, Viṣṇu destroys the demons in the form of the Varāha, but no particular individual is specified, nor does the elevation of the earth depend upon their discomfiture. The Kālikā Upapurāṇa has an absurd legend of a conflict between Śiva as a Sarabha, a fabulous animal, and Viṣṇu as the Varāha, in which the latter suffers himself and his offspring begotten upon earth to be slain.


This, which is nothing more than the developement of the notion that the Varāha incarnation typifies the ritual of the Vedas, is repeated in most of the Purāṇas in the same or nearly the same words.


This seems equivalent to the ancient notion of a plastic nature: “All parts of matter, by reason of a certain life in them, being supposed able to form themselves artificially and methodically to the greatest advantage of their present respective capabilities.” This, which Cudworth (c. III.) calls hylozoism, is not incompatible with an active creator: “not that he should, αὐτουργεῖν ἅπαντα, set his own hand to every work, which, as Aristotle says, would be, ἀπρεπὲς τῷ θεῷ, unbecoming God; but, as in the case of Brahmā and other subordinate agents, that they should occasion p. 33 the various developments of crude nature to take place, by supplying that will, of which nature itself is incapable. Action being once instituted by an instrumental medium, or by the will of an intellectual agent, it is continued by powers or a vitality inherent in nature or the matter of creation itself. The efficiency of such subordinate causes was advocated by Plato, Aristotle, and others; and the opinion of Zeno, as stated by Laertius, might be taken for a translation of some such passage as that in our text: Ἔστι δὲ φύσις ἕξις ἐξ αὐτῆς κινουμένη κατὰ σπερματικοὺς λόγους, ἀποτελοῦσά τε καὶ συνέχουσα τὰ ἐξ αὐτῆς ἐν ὡριοσμένοις χρόνοις, καὶ τοιαῦτα δρῶσα ἀφ᾽ οἵων ἀπεκρίθη· ‘Nature is a habit moved from itself, according to seminal principles; perfecting and containing those several things which in determinate times are produced from it, and acting agreeably to that from which it was secreted.’ Intell. System, I. 328. 'So the commentator illustrates our text by observing that the cause of the budding of rice is in its own seed, and its developement is from itself; though its growth takes place only at a determinate season, in consequence of the instrumental agency of the rain.

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