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Chapter III - Description of Bharata-varsha

Description of Bhārata-varṣa: extent: chief mountains: nine divisions: principal rivers and mountains of Bhārata proper: principal nations: superiority over other Varṣas, especially as the seat of religious acts. (Topographical lists.)

THE country that lies north of the ocean, and south of the snowy mountains, is called Bhārata, for there dwelt the descendants of Bharata. It is nine thousand leagues in extent[1], and is the land of works, in consequence of which men go to heaven, or obtain emancipation.

The seven main chains of mountains in Bhārata are Mahendra, Malaya, Sahya, Śuktimat, Rikṣa, Vindhya, and Pāripātra[2].

From this region heaven is obtained, or even, in some cases, liberation from existence; or men pass from hence into the condition of brutes, or fall into hell. Heaven, emancipation, a state in mid-air, or in the subterraneous realms, succeeds to existence here, and the world of acts is not the title of any other portion of the universe.

The Varṣa of Bhārata is divided into nine portions, which I will name to you; they are Indra-dvīpa, Kaserumat, Tāmravarṇa, Gabhastimat, Nāga-dvīpa, Saumya, Gandharba, and Vāruṇa; the last or ninth Dvīpa is surrounded by the ocean, and is a thousand Yojanas from north to south[3].

On the east of Bhārata dwell the Kirātas (the barbarians); on the west, the Yavanas; in the centre reside Brahmans, Kṣetriyas, Vaiśyas, and Śūdras, occupied in their respective duties of sacrifice, arms, trade, and service[4].

The Śatadru, Candrabhāgā, and other rivers, flow from the foot of Himālaya: the Vedasmriti and others from the Parīpātra mountains: the Narmadā and Surasā from the Vindhya hills: the Tāpī, Payoṣṇī, and Nirvindhyā from the Rikṣa mountains; the Godāverī, Bhimarathī, Kṛṣṇavenī, and others, from the Sahya mountains: the Kritamālā, Tāmraparṇī, and others, from the Malaya hills: the Trisāmā, Ṛṣikulyā, &c. from the Mahendra: and the Ṛṣikulyā, Kumārī, and others, from the Śuktimat mountains. Of such as these, and of minor rivers, there is an infinite number; and many nations inhabit the countries on their borders[5].

The principal nations of Bhārata are the Kurus and Pāñcālas, in the middle districts: the people of Kāmarupa, in the east: the Puṇḍras, Kaliṅgas, Magadhas, and southern nations, are in the south: in the extreme west are the Saurāṣṭras, Śūras, Bhīras, Arbudas: the Kāruṣas and Mālavas, dwelling along the Pāripātra mountains: the Sauvīras, the Saindhavas, the Hūnas, the Sālvas, the people of Śākala, the Madras, the Rāmas, the Ambaṣṭhas, and the Pārasīkas, and others. These nations drink of the water of the rivers above enumerated, and inhabit their borders, happy and prosperous[6].

In the Bhārata-varṣa it is that the succession of four Yugas, or ages, the Krita, the Treta, the Dvāpara, and Kali, takes place; that pious ascetics engage in rigorous penance; that devout men offer sacrifices; and that gifts are distributed; all for the sake of another world. In Jambu-dvīpa, Viṣṇu, consisting of sacrifice, is worshipped, as the male of sacrificial rites, with sacrificial ceremonies: he is adored under other forms elsewhere. Bhārata is therefore the best of the divisions of Jambu-dvīpa, because it is the land of works: the others are places of enjoyment alone. It is only after many thousand births, and the aggregation of much merit, that living beings are sometimes born in Bhārata as men. The gods themselves exclaim, “Happy are those who are born, even from the condition of gods, as men in Bhārata-varṣa, as that is the way to the pleasures of Paradise, or the greater blessing of final liberation. Happy are they who, consigning all the unheeded rewards of their acts to the supreme and eternal Viṣṇu, obtain existence in that land of works, as their path to him. We know not, when the acts that have obtained us heaven shall have been fully recompensed[7], where we shall renew corporeal confinement; but we know that those men are fortunate who are born with perfect faculties[8] in Bhārata-varṣa.”

I have thus briefly described to you, Maitreya, the nine divisions of Jambu-dvīpa, which is a hundred thousand Yojanas in extent, and which is encircled, as if by a bracelet, by the ocean of salt water, of similar dimensions.

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Footnotes and references:


As Bhārata-varṣa means India, a nearer approach to the truth, with regard to its extent, might have been expected; and the Vāyu has another measurement, which is not much above twice the actual extent, or 1000 Yojanas from Kumāri (Comorin) to the source of the Ganges.


These are called the Kula parvatas, family mountains, or mountain ranges or systems. They are similarly enumerated in all the authorities, and their situation may be determined with some confidence by the rivers which flow from them. Mahendra is the chain of hills that extends from Orissa and the northern Circars to Gondwana, part of which, near Gañjam, is still called Mahindra Malei, or hills of Mahindra: Malaya is the southern portion of the western Ghats: Śuktimat is doubtful, for none of its streams can be identified with any certainty: Sahya is the northern portion of the western Ghauts, the mountains of the Konkan: Rikṣa is the mountains of Gondwana: Vindhya is the general name of the chain that stretches across central India, but it is here restricted to the eastern division; according to the Vāyu it is the part south of the Narmada, or the Sathpura range: Pāripātra, as frequently written Pāriyātra, is the northern and western portion of the Vindhya: the name, indeed, is still given to a range of mountains in Guzerat (see Col. Tod's map of Rajasthān), but the Chambal and other rivers of Mālva, which are said to flow from the Pāriyātra mountains, do not rise in that province. All these mountains therefore belong to one system, and are connected together. The classification seems to have been known to Ptolemy, as he specifies seven ranges of mountains, although his names do not correspond, with exception of the Vindus mons: of the others, the Adisathrus and Uxentus agree nearly in position with the Pāriyātra and Rikṣa: the Apocopi, Sardonix, Bettigo, and Orudii must be left for consideration. The Bhāgavata, Vāyu, Padma, and Mārkaṇḍeya add a list of inferior mountains to these seven.


This last is similarly left without a name in all the works: it is the most southerly, that on the borders of the sea, and no doubt intends India proper. Wilford places Isere a division called Kumārikā. No description is anywhere attempted of the other divisions. To these the Vāyu adds six minor Dvīpas, which are situated beyond sea, and are islands, Anga-dvīpa, Yama-d., Matsya-d., Kumuda or Kuśa-d., Varāha-d., and Saṅkha-d.; peopled for the most part by Mlecchas, but who worship Hindu divinities. The Bhāgavata and Padma name eight such islands, Swarṇaprastha, Candraśukla, Avarttana, Rāmaṇaka, Mandahāra, Pāñcajanya, Sinhalā, and Laṅkā. Col. Wilford has endeavoured to verify the first series of Upadvīpas, making Varāha Europe; Kuśa, Asia Minor, &c.; Śaṅkha, Africa; Malaya, Malacca: Yama is undetermined; and by Anga, he says, they understand China. How all this may be is more than doubtful, for in the three Purāṇas in which mention is made of them, very little more is said upon the subject.


By Kirātas, foresters and mountaineers are intended, the inhabitants to the present day of the mountains east of Hindustan. The Yavanas, on the west, may be either the Greeks of Bactria and the Puñjab—to whom there can be little doubt the term was applied by the Hindus—or the Mohammedans, who succeeded them in a later period, and to whom it is now applied. The Vāyu calls them both Mlecchas, and also notices the admixture of barbarians with Hindus in India proper. The same passage, slightly varied, occurs in the Mahābhārata: it is said especially of the mountainous districts, and may allude therefore to the Gonds and Bhils of central India, as well as to the Mohammedans of the north-west. The specification implies that infidels and outcastes had not yet descended on the plains of Hindustan.


This is a very meagre list, compared with those given in other Purāṇas. That of the Vāyu is translated by Col. Wilford, As. Res. vol. VIII; and much curious illustration of many of the places by the same writer occurs, As. Res. vol. XIV. The lists of the Mahābhārata, Bhāgavata, and Padma are given without any arrangement: those of the Vāyu, Matsya, Mārkaṇḍeya, and Kūrma are classed as in the text. Their lists are too long for insertion in this place. Of the rivers named in the text, most are capable of verification. The Śatadru, ‘the hundred channelled’—the Zaradrus of Ptolemy, Hesidrus of Pliny—is the Setlej. The Candrabhāgā, Sandabalis, or Acesines, is the Chinab. The Vedasmriti in the Vāyu and Kūrma is classed with the Vetravatī or Betwa, the Carmanwati or Chambal, and Siprā and Pārā, rivers of Malwa, and may be the same with the Beos of the maps. The Narmadā or Narbadda, the Namadus of Ptolemy, is well known; according to the Vāyu it rises, not in the Vindhya, but in the Rikṣa mountains, taking its origin in fact in Gondwana. The Surasā is uncertain. The Tāpī is the Tāpti, rising also in Gondwana: the other two are not identified. The Godaveri preserves its name: in the other two we have the Beemah and the Kṛṣṇa. For Kritamālā the Kūrma reads Ritumālā, but neither is verified. The Tāmraparnī is in Tinivelly, and rises at the southern extremity of the western Ghats. The Ṛṣikulyā, that rises in the Mahendra mountain, is the Rasikulia or Rasīkoila, which flows into the sea near Gañjam. The Trisāmā is undetermined. The text assigns another Ṛṣikulyā to the Śuktimat mountains, but in all the other authorities the word is Riṣīka. The Kumārī might suggest some connexion with Cape Comorin, but that the Malaya mountains seem to extend to the extreme south. A Ṛṣikulyā river is mentioned (Vana P. v. 3026) as a Tīrtha in the Mahābhārata, in connexion apparently with the hermitage of Vaśiṣṭha, which in another passage (v. 4096) is said to be on mount Arbuda or Abu. In that case, and if the reading of the text be admitted for the name of the river, the Śuktimat range would be the mountains of Guzerat; but this is doubtful.


The list of nations is as scanty as that of the rivers: it is, however, omitted altogether in the Bhāgavata. The Padma has a long catalogue, but without arrangement; so has the Mahābhārata. The lists of the Vāyu, Matsya, and Mārkaṇḍeya class the nations as central, northern, eastern, southern, and western. The names are much the same in all, and are given in the 8th vol. of the As. Res. from the Brahmāṇḍa, or, for it is the same account, the Vāyu. The Mārkaṇḍeya has a second classification, and, comparing Bhārata-varṣa to a tortoise, with its head to the east, enumerates the countries in the head, tail, flanks, and feet of the animal. It will be sufficient here to attempt an identification of the names in the text, but some further illustration is offered at the end of the chapter. The Kurus are the people of Kurukṣetra, or the upper part of the Doab, about Delhi. The Pāñcālas, it appears from the Mahābhārata, occupied the lower part of the Doab, extending across the Jumna to the Chambal. Kullūka Bhaṭṭa, in his commentary on Manu, II. 59, places them at Kanoj. Kāmarupa is the north-eastern part of Bengal, and western portion of Asam. Puṇḍra is Bengal proper, with part of south Behar and the Jungle Mahals. Kaliṅga is the sea-coast west of the mouths of the Ganges, with the upper part of the Coromandel coast. Magadhā is Behar. The Saurāṣṭras are the people of Surat, the Surastrene of Ptolemy. The Śūras and Bhīras, in the same direction, may be the Suri and Phauni or Phryni of Strabo. The Arbudas must be the people about mount Abu, or the natives of Mewar. The Kāruṣas and Mālavas are of course the people of Malwa. The Sauvīras and Saindhavas are usually conjoined as the Sindhu-Sauvīras, and must be the nations of Sindh and western Rajputāna. By the Minas we are to understand the white Huns or Indo-Scythians, who were established in the Puñjab and along the Indus at the commencement of our era, as we know from Arrian, Strabo, and Ptolemy, confirmed by recent discoveries of their coins, The Śālvas or, as also read, Śālyas are placed by the Vāyu and Matsya amongst the central nations, and seem to have occupied part of Rājasthan, a Śālva Rāja being elsewhere described as engaging in hostilities with the people of Dwarakā in Guzerat. Śākala, as I have elsewhere noticed, is a city in the Puñjab (As. Res. XV. 108), the Sagala of Ptolemy (ibid. 107); the Mahābhārata makes it the capital of the Madras, the Mardi of the ancients; but they are separately named in the text, and were situated something more to the south-east. p. 178 The Rāmas and Ambaṣṭhas are not named in the other Purāṇas, but the latter are amongst the western, or more properly north-western nations subjugated by Nakula, in his Dig-vijaya. Mahābh. Sabhā P. Ambas and Ambaṣṭhas are included in the list extracted by Col. Wilford from the Varāha Sanhitā, and the latter are supposed by him to be the Ambastæ of Arrian. The Pārasīkas carry us into Persia, or that part of it adjoining to the Indus. As far as the enumeration of the text extends, it seems applicable to the political and geographical divisions of India about the era of Christianity.


Enjoyment in Swarga, like punishment in Naraka, is only for a certain period, according to the merit or demerit of the individual. When the account is balanced, the man is born again amongst mankind.


A crippled or mutilated person, or one whose organs are defective, cannot at once obtain liberation; his merits must first secure his being born again perfect and entire.

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