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 - Account of kings, divisions, mountains, rivers, and inhabitants of the other Dvipas

Account of kings, divisions, mountains, rivers, and inhabitants of the other Dvīpas, viz. Plakṣa, Śālmala, Kuśa, Krauncha, Śāka, and Puṣkara: of the oceans separating them: of the tides: of the confines of the earth: the Lokāloka mountain. Extent of the whole.

IN the same manner as Jambu-dvīpa is girt round about by the ocean of salt water, so that ocean is surrounded by the insular continent of Plakṣa; the extent of which is twice that of Jambu-dvīpa.

Medhatithi, who was made sovereign of Plakṣa, had seven sons, Śāntabhaya, Śiśira, Sukhodaya, Ānanda, Śiva, Kṣemaka, and Dhruva; and the Dvīpa was divided amongst them, and each division was named after the prince to whom it was subject. The several kingdoms were bounded by as many ranges of mountains, named severally Gomeda, Candra, Nārada, Dundubhi, Somaka, Sumanas, and Vaibhrāja. In these mountains the sinless inhabitants ever dwell along with celestial spirits and gods: in them are many holy places; and the people there live for a long period, exempt from care and pain, and enjoying uninterrupted felicity. There are also, in the seven divisions of Plakṣa, seven rivers, flowing to the sea, whose names alone are sufficient to take away sin: they are the Anutaptā, Śikhī, Vipāsā, Tridivā, Kramu, Amritā, and Sukritā. These are the chief rivers and mountains of Plakṣa-dvīpa, which I have enumerated to you; but there are thousands of others of inferior magnitude. The people who drink of the waters of those rivers are always contented and happy, and there is neither decrease nor increase amongst them[1], neither are the revolutions of the four ages known in these Varṣas: the character of the time is there uniformly that of the Treta (or silver) age. In the five Dvīpas, worthy Brahman, from Plakṣa to Śāka, the length of life is five thousand years, and religious merit is divided amongst the several castes and orders of the people. The castes are called Āryaka, Kuru, Vivāsa, and Bhāvī, corresponding severally with Brahman, Kṣetriya, Vaiśya, and Śūdra. In this Dvīpa is a large fig-tree (F. religiosa), of similar size as the Jambu-tree of Jambu-dvīpa; and this Dvīpa is called Plakṣa, after the name of the tree. Hari, who is all, and the creator of all, is worshipped in this continent in the form of Soma (the moon). Plakṣa-dvīpa is surrounded, as by a disc, by the sea of molasses, of the same extent as the land. Such, Maitreya, is a brief description of Plakṣa-dvīpa.

The hero Vapushmat was king of the next or Śālmala-dvīpa, whose seven sons also gave designations to seven Varṣas, or divisions. Their names were Śveta, Hārīta, Jīmūta, Rohita, Vaidyuta, Mānasa, and Suprabha. The Ikṣu sea is encompassed by the continent of Sālmala, which is twice its extent. There are seven principal mountain ranges, abounding in precious gems, and dividing the Varṣas from each other; and there are also seven chief rivers. The mountains are called Kumuda, Unnata, Valāhaka, Drona, fertile in medicinal herbs, Kanka, Mahiṣa, and Kakkudwat. The rivers are Yaunī, Toyā, Vitṛṣṇā, Candrā, Śuklā, Vimocanī, and Nivritti; all whose waters cleanse away sins. The Brahmans, Kṣetriyas, Vaiśyas, and Śūdras of this Dvīpa, called severally Kapilas, Arunas, Pītas, and Rohitas (or tawny, purple, yellow, and red), worship the imperishable soul of all things, Viṣṇu, in the form of Vāyu (wind), with pious rites, and enjoy frequent association with the gods. A large Śālmalī (silk-cotton) tree grows in this Dvīpa, and gives it its name. The Dvīpa is surrounded by the Surā sea (sea of wine), of the same extent as itself.

The Surā sea is entirely encircled by Kuśa-dvīpa, which is every way twice the size of the preceding continent. The king, Jyotishmat, had seven sons, Udbhida, Venumān, Swairatha, Lavana, Dhriti, Prabhākara, and Kapila, after whom the seven portions or Varṣas of the island were called Udbhida, &c. There reside mankind along with Daityas and Dānavas, as well as with spirits of heaven and gods. The four castes, assiduously devoted to their respective duties, are termed Dāmīs, Śushmis, Snehas, and Mandehas, who, in order to be relieved of the obligations imposed upon them in the discharge of their several functions, worship Janārddana, in the form of Brahmā, and thus get rid of the unpleasant duties which lead to temporal rewards. The seven principal mountains in this Dvīpa are named Vidruma, Hemaśaila, Dyutimān, Puṣpavān, Kuśeśaya, Hari, and Mandara; and the seven rivers are Dhūtapāpā, Śiva, Pavitrā, Sammati, Vidyudambhā, Mahhvanyā, Sarvapāpaharā: besides these, there are numerous rivers and mountains of less importance. Kuśa-dvīpa is so named from a clump of Kuśa grass (Poa) growing there. It is surrounded by the Ghrita sea (the sea of butter), of the same size as the continent.

The sea of Ghrita is encompassed by Krauncha-dvīpa, which is twice as large as Kuśa-dvīpa. The king of this Dvīpa was Dyutimān, whose sons, and the seven Varṣas named after them, were Kuśala, Mallaga, Uṣṇa, Pīvara, Andhakāraka, Muni, and Dundubhi. The seven boundary mountains, pleasing to gods and celestial spirits, are Krauncha, Vāmana, Andhakāraka, Devavrit, Puṇḍarīkavān, Dundubhi, and Mahaśaila; each of which is in succession twice as lofty as the series that precedes it, in the same manner as each Dvīpa is twice as extensive as the one before it. The inhabitants reside there without apprehension, associating with the bands of divinities. The Brahmans are called Puṣkaras; the Kṣetriyas, Puṣkalas: the Vaiśyas are termed Dhanyas; and the Śūdras, Tiṣyas. They drink of countless streams, of which the principal are denominated Gaurī, Kumudvatī, Sandhyā, Rātri, Manojavā, Kṣānti, and Puṇḍarīkā. The divine Viṣṇu, the protector of mankind, is worshipped there by the people, with holy rites, in the form of Rudra. Krauncha is surrounded by the sea of curds, of a similar extent; and that again is encompassed by Śāka-dvīpa.

The sons of Bhavya, the king of Śāka-dvīpa, after whom its Varṣas were denominated, were Jalada, Kumāra, Sukumāra, Manīcaka, Kusumoda, Maudākī, and Mahādruma. The seven mountains separating the countries were Udayagiri, Jalādhāra, Raivataka, Śyāma, Āmbikeya, Ramya, and Keśarī. There grows a large Sāka (Teak) tree, frequented by the Siddhas and Gandharbas, the wind from which, as produced by its fluttering leaves, diffuses delight. The sacred lands of this continent are peopled by the four castes. Its seven holy rivers, that wash away all sin, are the Sukumārī, Kumārī, Nalinī, Dhenukā, Ikṣu, Venukā, and Gabhastī. There are also hundreds and thousands of minor streams and mountains in this Dvīpa: and the inhabitants of Jalada and the other divisions drink of those waters with pleasure, after they have returned to earth from Indra's heaven. In those seven districts there is no dereliction of virtue; there is no contention; there is no deviation from rectitude. The caste of Mriga is that of the Brahman; the Māgadha, of the Kṣetriya; the Mānasa, of the Vaiśya; and the Mandaga of the Śūdra: and by these Viṣṇu is devoutly worshipped as the sun, with appropriate ceremonies. Śāka-dvīpa is encircled by the sea of milk, as by an armlet, and the sea is of the same breadth as the continent which it embraces[2]

The Kṣīroda ocean (or sea of milk) is encompassed by the seventh Dvīpa, or Puṣkara, which is twice the size of Sāka-dvīpa. Savana, who was made its sovereign, had but two sons, Mahāvīra and Dhātakī, after whom the two Varṣas of Puṣkara were so named. These are divided by one mighty range of mountains, called Mānasottara, which runs in a circular direction (forming an outer and an inner circle). This mountain is fifty thousand Yojanas in height, and as many in its breadth; dividing the Dvīpa in the middle, as if with a bracelet, into two divisions, which are also of a circular form, like the mountain that separates them. Of these two, the Mahāvīra-varṣa is exterior to the circumference of Mānasottara, and Dhātakī lies within the circle; and both are frequented by heavenly spirits and gods. There are no other mountains in Puṣkara, neither are there any rivers[3]. Men in this Dvīpa live a thousand years, free from sickness and sorrow, and unruffled by anger or affection.

There is neither virtue nor vice, killer nor slain: there is no jealousy, envy, fear, hatred, covetousness, nor any moral defect: neither is there truth or falsehood. Food is spontaneously produced there, and all the inhabitants feed upon viands of every flavour. Men there are indeed of the same nature with gods, and of the same form and habits. There is no distinction of caste or order; there are no fixed institutes; nor are rites performed for the sake of advantage. The three Vedas, the Purāṇas, ethics, and polity, and the laws of service, are unknown. Puṣkara is in fact, in both its divisions, a terrestrial paradise, where time yields happiness to all its inhabitants, who are exempt from sickness and decay. A Nyagrodha-tree (Ficus indica) grows on this Dvīpa, which is the especial abode of Brahmā, and he resides in it, adored by the gods and demons. Puṣkara is surrounded by the sea of fresh water, which is of equal extent with the continent it invests[4].

In this manner the seven island continents are encompassed successively by the seven oceans, and each ocean and continent is respectively of twice the extent of that which precedes it. In all the oceans the water remains at all times the same in quantity, and never, increases or diminishes; but like the water in a caldron, which, in consequence of its combination with heat, expands, so the waters of the ocean swell with the increase of the moon. The waters, although really neither more nor less, dilate or contract as the moon increases or wanes in the light and dark fortnights. The rise and fall of the waters of the different seas is five hundred and ten inches[5].

Beyond the sea of fresh water is a region of twice its extent, where the land is of gold, and where no living beings reside. Thence extends the Lokāloka mountain, which is ten thousand Yojanas in breadth, and as many in height; and beyond it perpetual darkness invests the mountain all around; which darkness is again encompassed by the shell of the egg[6].

Such, Maitreya, is the earth, which with its continents, mountains, oceans, and exterior shell, is fifty crores (five hundred millions) of Yojanas in extent[7]. It is the mother and nurse of all creatures, the foundation of all worlds, and the chief of the elements.

Footnotes and references:


So the commentator explains the terms Avasarpiṇī and Utsarpiṇī; but these words most commonly designate divisions of time peculiar to the Jainas; during the former of which men are supposed to decline from extreme felicity to extreme distress; and in the latter, to ascend from misery to happiness. The author of the text had possibly the Jaina use of these terms in view; and if so, wrote after their system was promulgated.


The Kūrma is the only Purāṇa in which the white island, Śveta-dvīpa, the abode of Viṣṇu, is included in the geography of the world: an incidental description of it is quoted by Col. Wilford from the Uttara Khaṇḍa of the Padma Purāṇa (As. Res. XI. 99); and it is in this and in the Brahma Vaivartta that allusions to it are most frequent and copious.


A slight alteration has been here made in the order of the description.


The description of the Dvīpas in the Agni, Brāhma, Kūrma, and Vāyu Purāṇas agrees with that of our text. The Mārkaṇḍeya, Liṅga, and Matsya contain no details. The Bhāgavata and Padma follow the same order as the Viṣṇu, &c. but alter all the names, and, many of the measurements. The account of the Mahābhārata is very irregular and confused. The variations throw no additional light upon the geographical system of the Purāṇas. Some traces of this appear discoverable in the west; and the seven Dvīpas, with their surrounding seas, may have some connexion with the notion of the seven climates, as Col. Wilford has supposed. That learned, but fanciful writer bestowed great pains upon the verification of these fictions, and imagined the different Dvīpas to represent actual divisions of the globe: Jambu being India; Kuśa, the Kush of Scripture, or the countries between Mesopotamia and India: Plakṣa being Asia Minor; Śālmali, eastern Europe; Krauncha, Germany; Śāka, the British isles; and Puṣkara, Iceland. The white or silver island, or island of the moon, was also, according to him, the island of Great Britain. Whatever may be thought of his conclusions, his essays on these subjects, particularly in the eighth, tenth, and eleventh volumes of the Asiatic Researches, contain much curious and interesting matter.


Although the Hindus seem to have had a notion of the cause of the tides, they were not very accurate observers of the effect. The extreme rise of the tide in the Hugli river has never exceeded twenty feet, and its average is about fifteen. (As. Res. vol. XVIII. Kyd on the Tides of the Hugli.)


The Aṇḍa kaṭāha. The Kaṭāha is properly a shallow hemispherical vessel, a saucer; but compounded in this form, implies the shell of the mundane egg. The Bhāgavata thus describes these portions of the world: “Beyond the sea of fresh water is the mountain belt, called Lokāloka, the circular boundary between the world and void space. The interval between Meru and Mānasottara is the land of living beings. Beyond the fresh water sea is the region of gold, which shines like the bright surface of a mirror, but from which no sensible object presented to it is ever reflected, and consequently it is avoided by living creatures. The mountain range by which it is encircled is termed Lokāloka, because the world is separated by it from that which is not world; for which purpose it was placed by Īśvara on the limit of the three worlds; and its height and breadth are such that the rays of the heavenly luminaries, from the sun to the polar-star, which spread over the regions within the mountain, cannot penetrate beyond it.” According to Col. Wilford, however, there is a chasm in the belt, and a sea beyond it, where Viṣṇu abides; but he has not given his authorities for this. (As. Res. XI. 54.) The Mohammedan legends of Koh Kaf, ‘the stony girdle that surrounds the world,’ are evidently connected with the Lokāloka of the Hindus. According to the Śiva Tantra, the El Dorado, at the foot of the Lokāloka mountains, is the play-ground of the gods.


This comprises the planetary spheres; for the diameter of the seven zones and oceans—each ocean being of the same diameter as the continent it encloses, and each successive continent being twice the diameter of that which precedes it—amounts to but two crones and fifty-four lacs. The golden land is twice the diameter of Puṣkara, or two crones and fifty-six lacs; and the Lokāloka is but ten thousand Yojanas. So that the whole is five crores ten lacs and ten thousand ( According to the Śiva Tantra, the golden land is ten crores of Yojanas, making, with the seven continents, one fourth of the whole measurement. Other calculations occur, the incompatibility of which is said by the commentators on our text, and on that of the Bhāgavata, to arise from reference being made to different Kalpas, and they quote the same stanza to this effect: ‘Whenever any contradictions in different Purāṇas are observed, they are ascribed by the pious to differences of Kalpas and the like.