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 VII - Extent and situation of the seven spheres

Extent and situation of the seven spheres, viz. earth, sky, planets, Mahar-loka, Janaloka, Tapo-loka, and Satya-loka. Of the egg of Brahmā, and its elementary envelopes. Of the influence of the energy of Viṣṇu.

Maitreya said:—

The sphere of the whole earth has been described to me by you, excellent Brahman, and I am now desirous to hear an account of the other spheres above the world, the Bhuvar-loka and the rest, and the situation and the dimensions of the celestial luminaries.

PARĀŚARA. The sphere of the earth (or Bhūr-loka), comprehending its oceans, mountains, and rivers, extends as far as it is illuminated by the rays of the sun and moon; and to the same extent, both in diameter and circumference, the sphere of the sky (Bhuvar-loka) spreads above it (as far upwards as to the planetary sphere, or Swar-loka)[1]. The solar orb is situated a hundred thousand leagues from the earth; and that of the moon an equal distance from the sun. At the same interval above the moon occurs the orbit of all the lunar constellations. The planet Budha (Mercury) is two hundred thousand leagues above the lunar mansions. Śukra (Venus) is at the same distance from Mercury. Aṅgāraka (Mars) is as far above Venus; and the priest of the gods (Vrihaspati, or Jupiter) as far from Mars: whilst Saturn (Sani) is two hundred and fifty thousand leagues beyond Jupiter. The sphere of the seven Ṛṣis (Ursa Major) is a hundred thousand leagues above Saturn; and at a similar height above the seven Ṛṣis is Dhruva (the pole-star), the pivot or axis of the whole planetary circle. Such, Maitreya, is the elevation of the three spheres (Bhūr, Bhuvar, Swar) which form the region of the consequences of works. The region of works is here (or in the land of Bhārata)[2].

Above Dhruva, at the distance of ton million leagues, lies the sphere of saints, or Mahar-loka, the inhabitants of which dwell in it throughout a Kalpa, or day of Brahmā. At twice that distance is situated Janaloka, where Sanandana and other pure-minded sons of Brahmā, reside. At four times the distance, between the two last, lies the Tapo-loka (the sphere of penance), inhabited by the deities called Vaibhrājas, who are unconsumable by fire. At six times the distance (or twelve Crores, a hundred and twenty millions of leagues) is situated Satya-loka, the sphere of truth, the inhabitants of which never again know death[3].

Wherever earthy substance exists, which may be traversed by the feet, that constitutes the sphere of the earth, the dimensions of which I have already recounted to you. The region that extends from the earth to the sun, in which the Siddhas and other celestial beings move, is the atmospheric sphere, which also I have described. The interval between the sun and Dhruva, extending fourteen hundred thousand leagues, is called by those who are acquainted with the system of the universe the heavenly sphere. These three spheres are termed transitory: the three highest, Jana, Tapa, and Satya, are styled durable[4]: Maharloka, as situated between the two, has also a mixed character; for although it is deserted at the end of the Kalpa, it is not destroyed. These seven spheres, together with the Pātālas, forming the extent of the whole world, I have thus, Maitreya, explained to you.

The world is encompassed on every side and above and below by the shell of the egg of Brahmā, in the same manner as the seed of the wood-apple[5] is invested by its rind. Around the outer surface of the shell flows water, for a space equal to ten times the diameter of the world. The waters, again, are encompassed exteriorly by fire; fire by air; and air by Mind; Mind by the origin of the elements (Ahaṅkāra); and that by Intellect: each of these extends ten times the breadth of that which it encloses; and the last is encircled by the chief Principle, Pradhāna[6], which is infinite, and its extent cannot be enumerated: it is therefore called the boundless and illimitable cause of all existing things, supreme nature, or Prakriti; the cause of all mundane eggs, of which there are thousands and tens of thousands, and millions and thousands of millions, such as has been described[7]. Within Pradhāna resides Soul, diffusive, conscious, and self-irradiating, as fire is inherent in flint[8], or sesamum oil in its seed. Nature (Pradhāna) and soul (Pumān) are both of the character of dependants, and are encompassed by the energy of Viṣṇu, which is one with the soul of the world, and which is the cause of the separation of those two (soul and nature) at the period of dissolution; of their aggregation in the continuance of things; and of their combination at the season of creation[9]. In the same manner as the wind ruffles the surface of the water in a hundred bubbles, which of themselves are inert, so the energy of Viṣṇu influences the world, consisting of inert nature and soul. Again, as a tree, consisting of root, stem, and branches, springs from a primitive seed, and produces other seeds, whence grow other trees analogous to the first in species, product, and origin, so from the first unexpanded germ (of nature, or Pradhāna) spring Mahat (Intellect) and the other rudiments of things; from them proceed the grosser elements; and from them men and gods, who are succeeded by sons and the sons of sons. In the growth of a tree from the seed, no detriment occurs to the parent plant, neither is there any waste of beings by the generation of others. In like manner as space and time and the rest are the cause of the tree (through the materiality of the seed), so the divine Hari is the cause of all things by successive developements (through the materiality of nature)[10]. As all the parts of the future plant, existing in the seed of rice, or the root, the culm, the leaf, the shoot, the stem, the bud, the fruit, the milk, the grain, the chaff, the ear, spontaneously evolve when they are in approximation with the subsidiary means of growth (or earth and water), so gods, men, and other beings, involved in many actions (or necessarily existing in those states which are the consequences of good or evil acts), become manifested only in their full growth, through the influence of the energy of Viṣṇu.

This Viṣṇu is the supreme spirit (Brahma), from whence all this world proceeds, who is the world, by whom the world subsists, and in whom it will be resolved. That spirit (or Brahma) is the supreme state of Viṣṇu, which is the essence of all that is visible or invisible; with which all that is, is identical; and whence all animate and inanimate existence is derived. He is primary nature: he, in a perceptible form, is the world: and in him all finally melts; through him all things endure. He is the performer of the rites of devotion: he is the rite: he is the fruit which it bestows: he is the implements by which it is performed. There is nothing besides the illimitable Hari.

Footnotes and references:


Bhūr-loka, the terrestrial sphere, is earth and the lower regions; from thence to the sun is the Bhuvar-loka, or atmospheric sphere; and from the sun to Dhruva is the Swar-loka, or heaven; as subsequently explained in the text, and in other Purāṇas.


A similar account of the situations and distances of the planets occurs in the Padma, Kūrma, and Vāyu Purāṇas. The Bhāgavata has one or two varieties, but they are of no great importance.


An account of these Lokas is met with only in a few of the Purāṇas, and is not much more detailed in them than in our text. The Vāyu is most circumstantial. According to that authority, Mahar, which is so called from a mystical term Maha, is the abode of the Gaṇadevas, the Yāmas and others, who are the regents or rulers of the Kalpa, the Kalpādhikāris they are so designated also in the Kūrma. The Kāśī Khaṇḍa refers the name to Mahas, ‘light,’ the sphere being invested with radiance. Its inhabitants are also called lords of the Kalpa: but the commentator explains this to denote Bhrigu and the other patriarchs, whose lives endure for a day of Brahmā. The different accounts agree in stating, that when the three lower spheres are consumed by fire, Mahar-loka is deserted by its tenants, who repair to the next sphere, or Jana-loka. Jana-loka, according to the Vāyu, is the residence of the Ṛṣis and demigods during the night of Brahmā, and is termed Jana because the patriarchs are the progenitors of mankind. The Kāśī Khaṇḍa agrees with the Viṣṇu in peopling it with Sanandana and the other ascetic sons of Brahmā, and with Yogis like themselves. These are placed by the Vāyu in the Tapo-loka, and they and the other sages, and the demigods, after repeated appearances in the world, become at last Vairājas in the Brahmā or Satya loka. After many divine ages of residence there with Brahmā, they are, along with him, absorbed, at the end of his existence into the indiscrete. The commentator on the Kāśī Khaṇḍa explains Vairāja to mean ‘relating to, or derived from, Brahmā or Virāj.’ The Vairājas are there, as in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa, placed in the Tapo-loka, and are explained to be ascetics, mendicants, anchorets, and penitents, who have completed a course of rigorous austerities. It maybe doubted, however, if the Paurāṇiks have very precise notions regarding these spheres and their inhabitants, The Purāṇas of a decidedly sectarial character add other and higher worlds to the series. Thus the Kūrma identifies Brahmā-loka with Viṣṇu-loka, and has a Rudra-loka above it. The Śiva places Viṣṇu-loka above Brahmā-loka, and Rudra-loka above that. In p. 214 the Kāśī Khaṇḍa as we have, instead of those two, Vaikuntha and Kailāsa, as the lofty worlds of Viṣṇu and Śiva; whilst the Brahma Vaivartta has above all a Go-loka, a world or heaven of cows and Kṛṣṇa. These are all evidently additions to the original system of seven worlds, in which we have probably some relation to the seven climates of the ancients, the seven stages or degrees of the earth of the Arabs, and the seven heavens of the Mohammedans, if not to the seven Amshaspends of the Parsis. Seven, suggested originally perhaps by the seven planets, seems to have been a favourite number with various nations of antiquity. Amongst the Hindus it was applied to a variety of sacred or mythological objects, which are enumerated in a verse in the Hanumān Nātaka. Rāma is described there as piercing seven palm-trees with an arrow, on which other groups of seven take fright, as the seven steeds of the sun, the seven spheres, Munis, seas, continents, and mothers of the gods.


Kritika and Akritika; literally ‘made and unmade:’ the former being renewed every Kalpa, the latter perishing only at the end of Brahmā's life.


Of the Kapittha (Feronia Elephantum).


See before the order in which the elements are evolved (p. 14).


The followers of Anaximander and Democritus taught “an ἀπειρία κόσμων ‘an infinity of worlds;’ and that not only successive in that space which this world of ours is conceived now to occupy, in respect of the infinity of past and future time, but also a contemporary infinity of coexistent worlds, at all times, throughout endless and unbounded space.” Intellect. System, I. 303.


Literally ‘in wood,’ the attrition of two pieces of which does not create, but developes, their latent heat and flame.


Thus in Scipio's dream the divinity is made the external limit of the universe: “Novem tibi orbibus vel potius globis connexa sunt omnia, quorum unus est cælestis externus qui reliquos omnes complectitur, summus ipse deus arcens et continens ceteros:” which Macrobius explains as to be understood of the Supreme First Cause of all things, only in respect of his supremacy over all, and from his comprehending as well as creating all things, and being regarded as the soul of the world: “Quod et virtutes omnes, quæ illam primæ omnipotentiam summitates sequuntur, aut ipse faciat aut ipse contineat: ipsam denique Jovem veteres vocaverunt, et apud theologos Jupiter est mundi anima.” In Somn. Scip. c. XVII.


The two passages in parentheses are the additions of the commentator, intended to explain how the deity is the material cause of the world. He is not so of his own essence, not so immediately, but through the interposition of Pradhāna: ‘As however he is the source of Prakriti, he must be considered the material as well as immaterial cause of being.’

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