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 III - Division of the Veda into four portion, by the Vyasa, in every Dwapara age

Division of the Veda into four portions, by a Vyāsa, in every Dvāpara age. List of the twenty-eight Vyāsas of the present Manvantara. Meaning of the word Brahma.

Maitreya said:—

I have learnt from you, in due order, how this world is Viṣṇu; how it is in Viṣṇu; how it is from Viṣṇu: nothing further is to be known: but I should desire to hear how the Vedas were divided, in different ages, by that great being, in the form of Veda-vyāsa? who were the Vyāsas of their respective eras? and what were the branches into which the Vedas were distributed?

Parāśara said:—

The branches of the great tree of the Vedas are so numerous, Maitreya, that it is impossible to describe them at length. I will give you a summary account of them.

In every Dvāpara (or third) age, Viṣṇu, in the person of Vyāsa, in order to promote the good of mankind, divides the Veda, which is properly but one, into many portions: observing the limited perseverance, energy, and application of mortals, he makes the Veda fourfold, to adapt it to their capacities; and the bodily form which he assumes, in order to effect that classification, is known by the name of Veda-vyāsa. Of the different Vyāsas in the present Manvantara[1], and the branches which they have taught, you shall have an account.

Twenty-eight times have the Vedas been arranged by the great Ṛṣis in the Vaivaswata Manvantara in the Dvāpara age, and consequently eight and twenty Vyāsas have passed away; by whom, in their respective periods, the Veda has been divided into four. In the first Dvāpara age the distribution was made by Swayambhu (Brahmā) himself; in the second, the arranger of the Veda (Veda-vyāsa) was Prajāpati (or Manu); in the third, Uśanas; in the fourth, Vrihaspati; in the fifth, Savitri; in the sixth, Mrityu (Death, or Yama); in the seventh, Indra; in the eighth, Vaśiṣṭha; in the ninth, Sāraswata; in the tenth, Tridhāman; in the eleventh, Trivṛṣan; in the twelfth, Bharadvāja; in the thirteenth, Antarīkṣa; in the fourteenth, Vapra; in the fifteenth, Trayyāruṇa[2]; in the sixteenth, Dhanañjaya; in the seventeenth, Kritañjaya; in the eighteenth, Riṇa; in the nineteenth, Bharadvāja; in the twentieth, Gotama; in the twenty-first, Uttama, also called Haryātmā; in the twenty-second, Veṇa, who is likewise named Rājaśravas; in the twenty-third, Somaśushmāpaṇa, also Triṇavindu; in the twenty-fourth, Rikṣa, the descendant of Bhrigu, who is known also by the name Vālmīki; in the twenty-fifth, my father Śakti was the Vyāsa; I was the Vyāsa of the twenty-sixth Dvāpara, and was succeeded by Jaratkāru; the Vyāsa of the twenty-eighth, who followed him, was Kṛṣṇa Dwaipāyana. These are the twenty-eight elder Vyāsas, by whom, in the preceding Dvāpara ages, the Veda has been divided into four. In the next Dvāpara, Drauṇi (the son of Droṇa) will be the Vyāsa, when my son, the Muni Kṛṣṇa Dwaipāyana, who is the actual Vyāsa, shall cease to be (in that character)[3].

The syllable Om is defined to be the eternal monosyllabic Brahma[4]. The word Brahma is derived from the root Vriha (to increase), because it is infinite (spirit), and because it is the cause by which the Vedas (and all things) are developed. Glory to Brahma, who is addressed by that mystic word, associated eternally with the triple universe[5], and who is one with the four Vedas. Glory to Brahma, who, alike in the destruction and renovation of the world, is called the great and mysterious cause of the intellectual principle (Mahat); who is without limit in time or space, and exempt from diminution or decay; in whom (as connected with the property of darkness) originates worldly illusion; and in whom resides the end of soul (fruition or liberation), through the properties of light and of activity (or goodness and foulness). He is the refuge of those who are versed in the Sāṅkhya philosophy; of those who have acquired control over their thoughts and passions. He is the invisible, imperishable Brahma; varying in form, invariable in substance; the chief principle, self-engendered; who is said to illuminate the caverns of the heart; who is indivisible, radiant, undecaying, multiform. To that supreme Brahma be for ever adoration.

That form of Vāsudeva, who is the same with supreme spirit, which is Brahma, and which, although diversified as threefold, is identical, is the lord, who is conceived by those that contemplate variety in creation to be distinct in all creatures. He, composed of the Rik, Sauna, and Yajur-Vedas, is at the same time their essence, as he is the soul of all embodied spirits. He, distinguished as consisting of the Vedas, creates the Vedas, and divides them by many subdivisions into branches: he is the author of those branches: he is those aggregated branches; for he, the eternal lord, is the essence of true knowledge[6].

Footnotes and references:


The text has, ‘Hear from me an account of the Vyāsas of the different Manvantaras;’ but this is inconsistent with what follows, in which the enumeration is confined to the Vaivaswata Manvantara.


This name occurs as that of one of the kings of the solar dynasty, and is included by Mr. Colebrooke amongst the persons of royal descent, who are mentioned as authors of hymns in the Rig-veda. As. Res. VIII. 383.


A similar list of Vyāsas is given in the Kūrma and Vāyu Purāṇas. Many of the individuals appear as authors of different hymns and prayers in the Vedas; and it is very possible that the greater portion, if not all of them, had a real existence, being the framers or teachers of the religion of the Hindus before a complete ritual was compiled.


We have already had occasion to explain the sanctity of this monosyllable (see p. 1, n. 1), which ordinarily commences different portions of the Vedas, and which, as the text describes it, is identified with the supreme, undefinable deity, or Brahma. So in the Bhagavad-gīta: ‘Repeating Om, the monosyllable, which is Brahma, and calling me to mind:’ which is not exactly the same idea that is conveyed by Schlegel's version; ‘Monosyllabum mysticum Om pronuntiando, numen adorans, mei memor;’ where ‘numen adorans,’ although it may be defended as necessary to the sense, is not expressed by the words of the text, nor compatible with Hindu notions. In one of the MSS. employed, the transcriber has evidently been afraid of desecrating this sacred monosyllable, and has therefore altered the text, writing it ### instead of ###.


The daily prayers of the Brahman commence with the formula, Om bhūh, bhuvah, swar: Om earth, sky, heaven: these are the three mystical terms called Vyāhritis, and are scarcely of less sanctity than the Praṇava itself. Their efficacy, and the order of their repetition preceding the Gāyatrī, are fully detailed in Manu, II. 76-81. In the Mitākṣara they are directed to be twice repeated mentally, with Om prefixed to each; Om bhūh, Om bhuvah, Om swar; the breath being suppressed by closing the lips and nostrils.


The form or sensible type of Vāsudeva is here considered to be the monosyllable Om, and which is one with the three mystical words, Bhūh, Bhuvar, Swar, and with the Vedas: consequently the Vyāhritis and the Vedas are also forms of Vāsudeva, diversified as to their typical character, but essentially one and the same.

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