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 II - Description of the earth (the seven Dvipas and seven seas)

Description of the earth. The seven Dvīpas and seven seas. Jambu-dvīpa. Mount Meru: its extent and boundaries. Extent of Ilāvrita. Groves, lakes, and branches of Meru. Cities of the gods. Rivers. The forms of Viṣṇu worshipped in different Varṣas.

Maitreya said:—

You have related to me, Brahman, the creation of Svāyambhuva; I am now desirous to hear from you a description of the earth: how many are its oceans and islands, its kingdoms and its mountains, its forests and rivers and the cities of the gods, its dimensions, its contents, its nature, and its form.

Parāśara said:—

You shall hear, Maitreya, a brief account of the earth from me: a full detail I could not give you in a century.

The seven great insular continents are Jambu, Plakṣa, Sālmali, Kuśa, Krauncha, Śāka, and Puṣkara: and they are surrounded severally by seven great seas; the sea of salt water (Lavaṇa), of sugar-cane juice (Ikṣu), of wine (Surā), of clarified butter (Sarpi), of curds (Dadhi), of milk (Dugdha), and of fresh water (Jala)[1].

Jambu-dvīpa is in the centre of all these: and in the centre of this continent is the golden mountain Meru. The height of Meru is eighty-four thousand Yojanas; and its depth below the surface of the earth is sixteen thousand. Its diameter at the summit is thirty-two thousand Yojanas; and at its base, sixteen thousand: so that this mountain is like the seed-cup of the lotus of the earth[2].

The boundary mountains (of the earth) are Himavān, Hemakūṭa, and Niṣadha, which lie south of Meru; and Nīla, Śveta, and Śriṅgī, which are situated to the north of it. The two central ranges (those next to Meru, or Niṣadha and Nīla) extend for a hundred thousand (Yojanas, running east and west). Each of the others diminishes ten thousand Yojanas, as it lies more remote from the centre. They are two thousand Yojanas in height, and as many in breadth[3]. The Varṣas or countries between these ranges are Bhārata (India), south of the Himavān mountains; next Kimpuruṣa, between Himavān and Hemakūṭa; north of the latter, and south of Niṣadha, is Hariversha; north of Meru is Ramyaka, extending from the Nīla or blue mountains to the Śveta (or white) mountains; Hiraṇmaya lies between the Śveta and Śriṅgī ranges; and Uttarakuru is beyond the latter, following the same direction as Bhārata[4]. Each of these is nine thousand Yojanas in extent. Ilāvrita is of similar dimensions, but in the centre of it is the golden mountain Meru, and the country extends nine thousand Yojanas in each direction from the four sides of the mountain[5]. There are four mountains in this Varṣa, formed as buttresses to Meru, each ten thousand Yojanas in elevation: that on the east is called Mandara; that on the south, Gandhamādana; that on the west, Vipula; and that on the north, Supārśva[6]: on each of these stands severally a Kadamba-tree, a Jambu-tree, a Pīpal, and a Vaṭa[7]; each spreading over eleven hundred Yojanas, and towering aloft like banners on the mountains. From the Jambu-tree the insular continent Jambu-dvīpa derives its appellations. The apples of that tree are as large as elephants: when they are rotten, they fall upon the crest of the mountain, and from their expressed juice is formed the Jambu river, the waters of which are drunk by the inhabitants; and in consequence of drinking of that stream, they pass their days in content and health, being subject neither to perspiration, to foul odours, to decrepitude, nor organic decay. The soil on the banks of the river, absorbing the Jambu juice, and being dried by gentle breezes, becomes the gold termed Jāmbunada, of which the ornaments of the Siddhas are fabricated.

The country of Bhadrāśva lies on the east of Meru, and Ketumāla on the west; and between these two is the region of Ilāvrita. On the east of the same is the forest Caitraratha; the Gandhamādana wood is on the south; the forest of Vaibhrāja is on the west; and the grove of Indra, or Nandana, is on the north. There are also four great lakes, the waters of which are partaken of by the gods, called Aruṇoda, Mahābhadra, Śītoda, and Maṇasa[8].

The principal mountain ridges which project from the base of Meru, like filaments from the root of the lotus, are, on the east, Śītānta, Mukunda, Kurarī, Mālyavān, and Vaikanka; on the south, Trikūṭa, Śiśira, Patanga, Rucaka, and Niṣadha; on the west, Śikhivāsas, Vaidūrya, Kapila, Gandhamādana, and Jārudhi; and on the north, Śaṅkhakūṭa, Riṣabha, Nāga, Hansa, and Kālañjara. These and others extend from between the intervals in the body, or from the heart, of Meru[9].

On the summit of Meru is the vast city of Brahmā, extending fourteen thousand leagues, and renowned in heaven; and around it, in the cardinal points and the intermediate quarters, are situated the stately cities of Indra and the other regents of the spheres[10]. The capital of Brahmā

is enclosed by the river Ganges, which, issuing from the foot of Viṣṇu, and washing the lunar orb, falls here from the skies[11], and, after encircling the city, divides into four mighty rivers, flowing in opposite directions. These rivers are the Śītā, the Alakanandā, the Cakṣu, and the Bhadrā. The first, falling upon the tops of the inferior mountains, on the east side of Meru, flows over their crests, and passes through the country of Bhadrāśva to the ocean: the Alakanandā flows south, to the country of Bhārata, and, dividing into seven rivers on the way, falls into the sea: the Cakṣu falls into the sea, after traversing all the western mountains, and passing through the country of Ketumāla: and the Bhadrā washes the country of the Uttara kurus, and empties itself into the northern ocean[12].

Meru, then, is confined between the mountains Nīla and Niṣadha (on the north and south), and between Mālyavān and Gandhamādana (on the west and east[13]): it lies between them like the pericarp of a lotus. The countries of Bhārata, Ketumāla, Bhadrāśva, and Uttarakuru lie, like leaves of the lotus of the world, exterior to the boundary mountains. Jaṭhara and Devakūṭa are two mountain ranges, running north and south, and connecting the two chains of Niṣadha and Nīla. Gandhamādana and Kailāsa extend, east and west, eighty Yojanas in breadth, from sea to sea. Niṣadha and Pāriyātra are the limitative mountains on the west, stretching, like those on the east, between the Nīla and Niṣadha ranges: and the mountains Triśriṅga and Jārudhi are the northern limits of Meru, extending, east and west, between the two seas[14]. Thus I have repeated to you the mountains described by great sages as the boundary mountains, situated in pairs, on each of the four sides of Meru. Those also, which have been mentioned as the filament mountains (or spurs), Śītānta and the rest, are exceedingly delightful. The vallies embosomed amongst them are the favourite resorts of the Siddhas and Cāraṇas: and there are situated upon them agreeable forests, and pleasant cities, embellished with the palaces of Viṣṇu, Lakṣmī, Agni, Sūrya, and other deities, and peopled by celestial spirits; whilst the Yakṣas, Rākṣasas, Daityas, and Dānavas pursue their pastimes in the vales. These, in short, are the regions of Paradise, or Svarga, the seats of the righteous, and where the wicked do not arrive even after a hundred births.

In the country of Bhadrāśva, Viṣṇu resides as Hayasīrā (the horse-headed); in Ketumāla, as Varāha (the boar); in Bhārata, as the tortoise (Kūrma); in Kuru, as the fish (Matsya); in his universal form, every where; for Hari pervades all places: he, Maitreya, is the supporter of all things; he is all things. In the eight realms of Kimpuruṣa and the rest (or all exclusive of Bhārata) there is no sorrow, nor weariness, nor anxiety, nor hunger, nor apprehension; their inhabitants are exempt from all infirmity and pain, and live in uninterrupted enjoyment for ten or twelve thousand years. Indra never sends rain upon them, for the earth abounds with water. In those places there is no distinction of Krita, Treta, or any succession of ages. In each of these Varṣas there are respectively seven principal ranges of mountains, from which, oh best of Brahmans, hundreds of rivers take their rise[15].

Footnotes and references:


The geography of the Purāṇas occurs in most of these works; and in all the main features, the seven Dvīpas, seven seas, the divisions of Jambu-dvīpa, the situation and extent of Meru, and the subdivisions of Bhārata, is the same. The Agni and Brāhma are word for word the same with our text; and the Kūrma, Liṅga, Matsya, Mārkaṇḍeya, and Vāyu present many passages common to them and the Viṣṇu, or to one another. The Vāyu, as usual, enters most fully into particulars. The Bhāgavata differs in its nomenclature of the subordinate details from all, and is followed by the Padma. The others either omit the subject, or advert to it but briefly. The Mahābhārata, Bhīṣma Parva, has an account essentially the same, and many of the stanzas are common to it and different Purāṇas. It does not follow the same order, and has some peculiarities; one of which is calling Jambu-dvīpa, Sudarśana, such being the name of the Jambu-tree: it is said also to consist of two portions, called Pippala and Śaśa, which are reflected in the lunar orb, as in a mirror.


The shape of Meru, according to this description, is that of an inverted cone; and by the comparison to the seed-cup its form should be circular: but there seems to be some uncertainty upon this subject amongst the Paurāṇics. The Padma compares its form to the bell-shaped flower of the Dhatura. The Vāyu represents it as having four sides of different colours; or, white on the east, yellow on the south, black on the west, and red on the north; but notices also various opinions of the outline of the mountain, which, according to Atri, had a hundred angles; to Bhrigu, a thousand: Sāvarni calls it octangular; Bhāguri, quadrangular; and Varṣāyani says it has a thousand angles: Gālava makes it saucer-shaped; Garga, twisted, like braided hair; and others maintain that it is circular. The Liṅga makes its eastern face of the colour of the ruby; its southern, that of the lotus; its western, golden; and its northern, coral. The Matsya has the same colours as the Vāyu, and both contain this line: ‘Four-coloured, golden, four-cornered lofty:’ but the Vāyu compares its summit, in one place, to a saucer; and observes that its circumference must be thrice its diameter. The Matsya also, rather incompatibly, says the measurement is that of a circular form, but it is considered quadrangular. According to the Buddhists of Ceylon, Meru is said to be of the same diameter throughout. Those of Nepal conceive it to be shaped like a drum. A translation of the description of Meru and its surrounding mountains, contained in the Brahmāṇḍa, which is the same exactly as that in the Vāyu, occurs in the As. Researches, VIII. 343. There are some differences in Col. Wilford's version from that which my MSS. would authorize, but they are not in general of much importance. Some, no doubt, depend upon variations in the readings of the different copies: of others, I must question the accuracy.


This diminution is the necessary consequence of the diminished radius of the circle of Jambu-dvīpa, as the mountain ranges recede from the centre.


These, being the two outer Varṣas, are said to take the form of a bow; that is, they are exteriorly convex, being segments of the circle.


The whole diameter of Jambu-dvīpa has been said to be 100,000 Yojanas. This is thus divided from north to south: Ilāvrita, in the centre, extends each way 9000, making 18000: Meru itself; at the base, is 16000: the six Varṣas, at 9000 each, are equal to 54000: and the six ranges, at 2000 each, are 12000: and 18 + 16 + 54 + 12 = 100. From east to west the Varṣas are of the extent necessary to occupy the space of the circle.


The Bhāgavata and Padma call these Mandara, Merumandara, Supārśva, and Kumuda.


Nauclea Kadamba, Eugenia Jambu, Ficus religiosa, and F. Indica. The Bhāgavata substitutes a mango-tree for the Pīpal; placing it on Mandara, the Jambu on Merumandara, the Kadamba on Supārśva, and the Vaṭa on Kumuda.


The Bhāgavata substitutes Sarvatobhadra for the Gandhamādana forest; and calls the lakes, lakes of milk, honey, treacle, and sweet water.


The Vāyu gives these names, and many more; and describes at great length forests, lakes, and cities of gods and demigods upon these fabulous mountains, or in the valleys between them. (As. Res. VIII. 354.)


The Lokapālas, or eight deities in that character, Indra, Yama, Varuṇa, Kuvera, Vivaswat, Soma, Agni, and Vāyu. Other cities of the gods are placed upon the spurs, or filament mountains, by the Vāyu; or that of Brahmā on Hemaśriṅga, of Śaṅkara on Kālañjara, of Garuḍa on Vaikanka, and of Kuvera on Kailāsa. Himavat is also specified by the same work as the scene of Śiva's penance, and marriage with Umā; of his assuming the form of a Kirāta, or forester: of the birth of Kārtikeya, in the Śara forest; and of his dividing the mountain Krauncha with his spear. This latter legend, having been somewhat misunderstood by Col. Wilford, is made the theme of one of his fanciful verifications. “Here, he (the author of the Vāyu) says, in the forest of Śaṅkha, was born Ṣaḍānana or Kārtikeya, Mars with six faces. Here he wished or formed the resolution of going to the mountains of Crauncha, Germany, part of Poland, &c. to rest and recreate himself after his fatigues in the wars of the gods with the giants. There, in the skirts of the mountains p. 170 of Crauncha, he flung his sword; the very same which Attila, in the fifth century, asserted he had found under a clod of earth. It was placed in his tomb, where it is probably to be found." As. Res. VIII. 364. The text of which this is in part a representation is, ###. The legend here alluded to is told at length in the Vāmana Purāṇa. Mahiṣāsura, flying from the battle, in which Tāraka had been slain by Kārtikeya, took refuge in a cave in the Krauncha mountain. A dispute arising between Kārtikeya and Indra, as to their respective prowess, they determined to decide the question by circumambulating the mountain; the palm to be given to him who should first go round it. Disagreeing about the result, they appealed to the mountain, who untruly decided in favour of Indra. Kārtikeya, to punish his injustice, hurled his lance at the mountain Krauncha, and pierced at once it and the demon Mahiṣa. Another division of Krauncha is ascribed to Paraśurāma. Megha Dūta, v.59. Krauncha is also sometimes considered to be the name of an Asura, killed by Kārtikeya; but this is perhaps some misapprehension of the Paurāṇic legend by the grammarians, springing out of the synonymes of Kārtikeya, Krauñcāri, Krauncadāraṇa, &c., implying the foe or destroyer of Krauncha, occurring in the Amara, and other Koṣas.


The Bhāgavata is more circumstantial. The river flowed over the great toe of Viṣṇu's left foot, which had previously, as he lifted it up, made a fissure in the shell of the mundane egg, and thus gave entrance to the heavenly stream. The Vāyu merely brings it from the lunar orb, and takes no notice of Viṣṇu's interposition. In a different passage it describes the detention of Gaṅgā amidst the tresses of Śiva, in order to correct her arrogance, until the divinity was moved by the penance and prayers of king Bhagīratha to set her free. The Mahābhārata represents Śiva's bearing the river for a hundred years on his head, merely to prevent its falling too suddenly on the mountains.


Although the Vāyu has this account, it subsequently inserts another, which is that also of the Matsya and Padma. In this the Ganges, after escaping from Śiva, is said to have formed seven streams; the Nalinī, Hlādinī, and Pavanī going to the east; the Cakṣu, Śītā, and Sindhu to the wrest; and the Bhāgirathī to the south. The Mahābhārata calls them Vaswaukasāra, Nalinī, Pavanī, Gaṅgā, Śītā, Sindhu, and Jambunadī. The more usual legend, however, is the first, and it offers some trace of actual geography. Mr. Faber, indeed, thinks that Meru, with the surrounding Varṣa of Ilāvrita, and its four rivers, is a representation of the garden of Eden. (Pagan Idolatry, I. 315.) However this may he, it seems not unlikely to have originated in some imperfect account of four great rivers flowing from the Himālaya, and the high lands north of that range, towards the cardinal points: the Bhadrā, to the north, representing the Oby of Siberia; and the Śītā, the river of China, or Hoaṅgho. The Alakanandā is well known as a main branch of the Ganges, near its source; and the Cakṣus is very possibly, as Major Wilford supposed, the Oxus. (As. Res. VIII. 309.) The printed copy of the Bhāgavata, and the MS. Padma, read Bankṣu; but the former is the more usual reading. It is said, in the Vāyu, of Ketumāla, through which this river runs, that it is peopled by various races of barbarians.


The text applies the latter name so variously as to cause confusion: it is given to one of the four buttresses of Meru, that on the south; to one of the filament mountains, on the west; to a range of boundary mountains, on the south; and to the Varṣa of Ketumāla: here another mountain range is intended, or a chain running north and south, upon the east of Ilāvrita, connecting the Nīla and Niṣadha ranges. Accordingly the Vāyu states it to be 34000 Yojanas in extent; that is, the diameter of Meru 16000, and the breadth of Ilāvrita on each side of it, or together 18000. A similar range, that of Mālyavān, bounds Ilāvrita on the west. It was probably to avoid the confusion arising from similarity of. nomenclature, that the author of the Bhāgavata substituted different names for Gandhamādana in the other instances, calling the buttress, as we have seen, Merumandara; the southern forest, Sarvatobhadra; and the filament mountain, Hansa; restricting the term Gandhamādana to the eastern range: a correction, it may be remarked, corroborative of a subsequent date.


These eight mountains are similarly enumerated in the Bhāgavata and Vāyu, but no mention is made in them of any seas, and it is clear that the eastern and western oceans cannot be intended, as the mountains Mālyavat and Gandhamādana intervene. The commentator would seem to understand ‘Arṇava’ as signifying ‘mountain,’ as he says between the seas means within Mālyavat and Gandhamādana; The Bhāgavata describes these eight mountains as circling Meru for 18000 Yojanas in each direction, leaving, according to the commentator, an interval of a thousand Yojanas between them and the base of the central mountain, and being 2000 high, and as many broad: they may be understood to be the exterior barriers of Meru, separating it from Ilāvritta. The names of these mountains, according to the Bhāgavata, are Jaṭhara and Devakūṭa on the east, Pavana and Parīpātra on the west, Triśriṅga and Makara on the north, and Kailāsa and Karavīra on the south. Without believing it possible to verify the position of these different creations of the legendary geography of the Hindus, it can scarcely admit of doubt that the scheme was suggested by imperfect acquaintance with the actual character of the country, by the four great ranges, the Altai, Muztag or Thian-shan, Ku-en-nun, and Himālaya, which traverse central Asia in a direction from east to west, with a greater or less inclination from north to south, which are connected or divided by many lofty transverse ridges, which enclose several large lakes, and which give rise to the great rivers that water Siberia, China, Tartary, and Hindustan. (Humboldt on the mountains of Central Asia, and Ritter. Geogr. Asia.)


More ample details of the Varṣas are given in the Mahābhārata, Bhāgavata, Padma, Vāyu, Kūrma, Liṅga, Matsya, and Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇas; but they are of an entirely fanciful nature. Thus of the Ketumāla-varṣa it is said, in the Vāyu, the men are black, the women of the complexion of the lotus; the people subsist upon the fruit of the Panasa or jack-tree, and live for ten thousand years, exempt from sorrow or sickness: seven Kula or main ranges of mountains in it are named, and a long list of countries and rivers is added, none of which can be identified with any actually existing, except perhaps the greats river the Sucakṣus, the Amu or Oxus. According to the Bhāgavata, Viṣṇu is worshipped as Kāmadeva in Ketumāla. The Vāyu says the object of adoration there is Īśvara, the son of Brahmā. Similar circumstances are asserted of the other Varṣas. See also As. Res. VIII. 352.

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