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 V - Account of the Seven religions of Patala, below the earth

Of the seven regions of Pātāla, below the earth. Nārada's praises of Pātāla. Account of the serpent Śeṣa. First teacher of astronomy and astrology.

Parāśara said:—

The extent of the surface of the earth has been thus described to you, Maitreya. Its depth below the surface is said to be seventy thousand Yojanas, each of the seven regions of Pātāla extending downwards ten thousand. These seven, worthy Muni, are called Atala, Vitala, Nitala, Gabhastimat, Mahātala, Sutala, and Pātāla[1]. Their soil is severally white, black, purple, yellow, sandy, stony, and of gold. They are embellished with magnificent palaces, in which dwell numerous Dānavas, Daityas, Yakṣas, and great snake-gods. The Muni Nārada, after his return from those regions to the skies[2], declared amongst the celestials that Pātāla was much more delightful than Indra's heaven. “What,” exclaimed the sage, “can be compared to Pātāla, where the Nāgas are decorated with brilliant and beautiful and pleasure-shedding jewels? who will not delight in Pātāla, where the lovely daughters of the Daityas and Dānavas wander about, fascinating even the most austere; where the rays of the sun diffuse light, and not heat, by day; and where the moon shines by night for illumination, not for cold; where the sons of Danu, happy in the enjoyment of delicious viands and strong wines, know not how time passes? There are beautiful groves and streams and lakes where the lotus blows; and the skies are resonant with the Koïl's song. Splendid ornaments, fragrant perfumes, rich unguents, the blended music of the lute and pipe and tabor; these and many other enjoyments are the common portion of the Dānavas, Daityas, and snake-gods, who inhabit the regions of Pātāla[3].”

Below the seven Pātālas is the form of Viṣṇu, proceeding from the quality of darkness, which is called Śeṣa[4], the excellencies of which neither Daityas nor Dānavas can fully enumerate. This being is called Ananta by the spirits of heaven, and is worshipped by sages and by gods. He has a thousand heads, which are embellished with the pure and visible mystic sign[5]: and the thousand jewels in his crests give light to all the regions. For the benefit of the world he: deprives the Asuras of their strength. He rolls his eyes fiercely, as if intoxicated. He wears a single ear-ring, a diadem, and wreath upon each brow; and shines like the white mountains topped with flame. He is clothed in purple raiment, and ornamented with a white necklace, and looks like another Kailāsa, with the heavenly Gaṅgā flowing down its precipices. In one hand he holds a plough, and in the other a pestle; and he is attended by Vāruṇī (the goddess of wine), who is his own embodied radiance. From his mouths, at the end of the Kalpa, proceeds the venomed fire that, impersonated as Rudra, who is one with Balarāma, devours the three worlds.

Śeṣa bears the entire world, like a diadem, upon his head, and he is the foundation on which the seven Pātālas rest. His power, his glory, his form, his nature, cannot be described, cannot he comprehended by the gods themselves. Who shall recount his might, who wears this whole earth, like a garland of flowers, tinged of a purple dye by the radiance of the jewels of his crests. When Ananta, his eyes rolling with intoxication, yawns, then earth, with all her woods, and mountains, and seas, and rivers, trembles. Gandharbas, Apsarasas, Siddhas, Kinnaras, Uragas, and Cāraṇas are unequal to hymn his praises, and therefore he is called the infinite (Ananta), the imperishable. The sandal paste, that is ground by the wives of the snake-gods, is scattered abroad by his breath, and sheds perfume around the skies.

The ancient sage Garga[6], having propitiated Śeṣa, acquired from him a knowledge of the principles of astronomical science, of the planets, and of the good and evil denoted by the aspects of the heavens.

The earth, sustained upon the head of this sovereign serpent, supports in its turn the garland of the spheres, along with their inhabitants, men, demons, and gods.

Footnotes and references:


In the Bhāgavata and Padma P. they are named Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talātala, Mahātala, Rasātala, and Pātāla. The Vāyu has Rasātala, Sutala, Vitala, Gabhastala, Mahātala, Śrītala, and Pātāla. There are other varieties.


Allusion is here made, perhaps, to the description given in the Mahābhārata, Udyoga Parva, p. 218, of Nārada's and Mātali's visit to Pātāla. Several of the particulars there given are not noticed in the Purāṇas.


There is no very copious description of Pātāla in any of the Purāṇas. The most circumstantial are those of the Vāyu and Bhāgavata: the latter has been repeated, p. 205 with some additions, in the first chapters of the Pātāla Khaṇḍa of the Padma Purāṇa. The Mahābhārata and these two Purāṇas assign different divisions to the Dānavas, Daityas, and Nāgas; placing Vāsuki and the other Nāga chiefs in the lowest: but the Vāyu has the cities of the principal Daityas and Nāgas in each; as in the first, those of the Daitya Namuchi, and serpent Kālīya; in the second, of Hayagrīva and Takṣaka; in the third, of Prahlāda and Hemaka; in the fourth, of Kālanemi and Vainateya; in the fifth, of Hiraṇyākṣa and Kirmīra; and in the sixth, of Pulomān and Vāsuki: besides others. Bali the Daitya is the sovereign of Pātāla, according to this authority. The Mahābhārata places Vāsuki in Rasātala, and calls his capital Bhogavatī. The regions of Pātāla, and their inhabitants, are oftener the subjects of profane, than of sacred fiction, in consequence of the frequent intercourse between mortal heroes and the Nāga-kanyās, or serpent-nymphs. A considerable section of the Vrihat Kathā, the Sūryaprabhā lambaka, consists of adventures and events in this subterraneous world.


Śeṣa is commonly described as being in this situation: he is the great serpent on which Viṣṇu sleeps during the intervals of creation, and upon whose numerous heads the world is supported. The Purāṇas, making him one with Balarāma or Saṅkarshana, who is an impersonation or incarnation of Śeṣa, blend the attributes of the serpent and the demigod in their description.


With the Swastika, a particular diagram used in mystical ceremonies.


One of the oldest writers on astronomy amongst the Hindus. According to Mr. Bentley, his Sanhitā dates 548 B. C. (Ancient Astron. of the Hindus, p. 59.)

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