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 VI - Division of the Sama-veda

Divisions of the Sāma-veda: of the Atharva-veda. Four Paurāṇik Saṃhitās. Names of the eighteen Purāṇas. Branches of knowledge. Classes of Ṛṣis.

YOU shall now hear, Maitreya, how Jaimini, the pupil of Vyāsa, divided the branches of the Sāma-veda. The son of Jaimini was Sumantu, and his son was Sukarman, who both studied the same Saṃhitā under Jaimini[1]. The latter composed the Sāhasra Saṃhitā (or compilation of a thousand hymns, &c.), which he taught to two disciples, Hiraṇyanābha, also named Kauśalya (or of Kośala), and Paushyinji[2]. Fifteen disciples of the latter were the authors of as many Saṃhitās: they were called the northern chaunters of the Sāman. As many more, also the disciples of Hiraṇyanābha, were termed the eastern chaunters of the Sāman, founding an equal number of schools. Lokākṣi, Kuthumi, Kuṣīdī, and Lāṅgali were the pupils of Paushyinji; and by them and their disciples many other branches were formed. Whilst another scholar of Hiraṇyanābha, named Kriti, taught twenty-four Saṃhitās to as many pupils; and by them, again, was the Sāma-veda divided into numerous branches[3].

I will now give you an account of the Saṃhitās of the Atharva-veda. The illustrious Muni Sumantu taught this Veda to his pupil Kabandha, who made it twofold, and communicated the two portions to Devaderśa and to Pathya. The disciples of Devaderśa were Maudga, Brahmabali,

Śaulkāyani, and Pippalāda. Pathya had three pupils, Jājali, Kumudādi, and Śaunaka; and by all these were separate branches instituted. Śaunaka having divided his Saṃhitā into two, gave one to Babhru, and the other to Saindhavāyana; and from them sprang two schools, the Saindhavas and Muñjakeśas[4]. The principal subjects of difference in the Saṃhitās of the Atharva-veda are the five Kalpas or ceremonials: the Nakṣatra Kalpa, or rules for worshipping the planets; the Vaitāna Kalpa, or rules for oblations, according to the Vedas generally; the Saṃhitā Kalpa, or rules for sacrifices, according to different schools; the Āṅgirasa Kalpa, incantations and prayers for the destruction of foes and the like; and the Sānti Kalpa, or prayers for averting evil[5].

Accomplished in the purport of the Purāṇas, Vyāsa compiled a Paurāṇik Saṃhitā, consisting of historical and legendary traditions, prayers and hymns, and sacred chronology[6]. He had a distinguished disciple, Sūta, also termed Romaharṣaṇa, and to him the great Muni communicated the Purāṇas. Sūta had six scholars, Sumati, Agnivarchas, Mitrayu, Śāṃśapāyana, Akritavraṇa, who is also called Kāśyapa, and Sāverṇi. The three last composed three fundamental Saṃhitās; and Romaharṣaṇa himself compiled a fourth, called Romaharṣaṇika. The substance of which four Saṃhitās is collected into this (Viṣṇu) Purāṇa.

The first of all the Purāṇas is entitled the Brāhma. Those who are acquainted with the Purāṇas enumerate eighteen, or the Brāhma, Pādma, Vaiṣṇava, Śaiva, Bhāgavata, Nāradīya, Mārkaṇḍeya, Āgneya, Bhaviṣyat, Brahma Vaivartta, Laiṅga, Vārāha, Skānda, Vāmana, Kaurmma, Mātsya, Gārura, Brahmāṇḍa. The creation of the world, and its successive reproductions, the genealogies of the patriarchs and kings, the periods of the Manus, and the transactions of the royal dynasties, are narrated in all these Purāṇas. This Purāṇa which I have repeated to you, Maitreya, is called the Vaiṣṇava, and is next in the series to the Padma; and in every part of it, in its narratives of primary and subsidiary creation, of families, and of periods, the mighty Viṣṇu is declared in this Purāṇa[7].

The four Vedas, the six Aṅgas (or subsidiary portions of the Vedas, viz. Śikṣā, rules of reciting the prayers, the accents and tones to be observed; Kalpa, ritual; Vyākaraṇa, grammar; Nirukta, glossarial comment; Chandas, metre; and Jyotish, (astronomy), with Mīmānsā (theology), Nyāya (logic), Dharma (the institutes of law), and the Purāṇas, constitute the fourteen principal branches of knowledge: or they are considered as eighteen, with the addition of these four; the Āyur-veda, medical science (as taught by Dhanwantari); Dhanur-veda, the science of archery or arms, taught by Bhrigu; Gāndharba-veda, or the drama, and the arts of music, dancing, &c., of which the Muni Bharata was the author; and the Artha śāstram, or science of government, as laid down first by Vrihaspati.

There are three kinds of Ṛṣis, or inspired sages; royal Ṛṣis, or princes who have adopted a life of devotion, as Viswamitra; divine Ṛṣis, or sages who are demigods also, as Nārada; and Brahman Ṛṣis, or sages who are the sons of Brahmā, or Brahmans, as Vaśiṣṭha and others[8].

I have thus described to you the branches of the Vedas, and their subdivisions; the persons by whom they were made; and the reason why they were made (or the limited capacities of mankind). The same branches are instituted in the different Manvantaras. The primitive Veda, that of the progenitor of all things, is eternal: these branches are but its modifications (or Vikalpas).

I have thus related to you, Maitreya, the circumstances relating to the Vedas, which you desired to hear. Of what else do you wish to be informed[9]?

Footnotes and references:


The Vāyu makes Sukarman the grandson of Sumantu, his son being called Sunwat.


Some copies read Pauṣpinji. The Vāyu agrees with our text, but alludes to a legend of Sukarman having first taught a thousand disciples, but they were all killed by Indra, for reading on an unlawful day, or one when sacred study is prohibited.


The Vāyu specifies many more names than the Viṣṇu, but the list is rather confused. Amongst the descendants of those named in the text, Rāyānanīya (or Rāṇāyanīya), the son of Lokākṣi, is the author of a Sanhitā still extant: Saumitri his son was the author of three Sanhitās: Parāśara, the son of Kuthumi, compiled and taught six Sanhitās: and Śāligotra, a son of Lāṅgali, established also six schools. Kriti was of royal descent: he and Paushyinji were the two most eminent teachers of the Sāma-veda.


According to the commentator, Muñjakeśa is another name for Babhru; but the Vāyu seems to consider him as the pupil of Saindhava, but the text is corrupt.


The Vāyu has an enumeration of the verses contained in the different Vedas, but it is very indistinctly given in many respects, especially as regards the Yajush. The Rich is said to comprise 8600 Ricas. The Yajush, as originally compiled by Vyāsa, 12000: of which the Vājasaneyi contains 1900 Ricas, and 7600 Brahmanas; the Charaka portion contains 6026 stanzas: and consequently the whole exceeds 12000 verses. The stanzas of the Sāman are said to be 8014; and those of the Atharvan 5980. Mr. Colebrooke states the verses of the whole Yajush to be 1987; of the Salapalka Brahmana of the same Veda 7624; and of the Atharvan 6015.


Or of stories (Ākhyānas) and minor stories or tales (Upākhyānas); of portions dedicated to some particular divinity, as the Śīva-gitā, Bhagavad-gītā, &c.; and accounts of the periods called Kalpas, as the Brāhma Kalpa, Vārāha Kalpa, &c.


For remarks upon this enumeration, see Introduction.


A similar enumeration is given in the Vāyu, with some additions. Ṛṣi is derived from Ṛṣ, ‘to go to’ or ‘approach.’ The Brahmarṣis, it is said, are descendants of the five patriarchs, who were the founders of races or Gotras of Brahmans, or Kaśyapa, Vaśiṣṭha, Aṅgiras, Atri, and Bhrigu. The Devarṣis are Nara and Nārāyaṇa, the sons of Dharma; the Bālakhilyas, who sprung from Kratu; Kardama, the son of Pulaha; Kuvera, the son of Pulastya; Achala, the son of Pratyūṣa; p. 285 Nārada and Parvata, the sons of Kaśyapa. Brahmarṣis are Ikṣvāku and other princes. The Brahmarṣis dwell in the sphere of Brahmā; the Devarṣis in the region of the gods; and the Rājarṣis in the heaven of Indra.


No notice is taken here of a curious legend which is given in the Mahābhārata, in the Gadā Parvan. It is there said, that during a great drought the Brahmans, engrossed by the care of subsistence, neglected the study of the sacred books, and the Vedas were lost. The Ṛṣi Sāraswata alone, being fed with fish by his mother Sarasvatī, the personified river so named, kept up his studies, and preserved the Hindu scriptures. At the end of the famine the Brahmans repaired to him to be taught, and sixty thousand disciples again acquired a knowledge of the Vedas from Sāraswata. This legend appears to indicate the revival, or more probably the introduction, of the Hindu ritual by the race of Brahmans, or the people called Sāraswata; for, according to the Hindu geographers, it was the name of a nation, as it still is the appellation of a class of Brahmans who chiefly inhabit the Pañjab. (As. Res. VII. 219, 338, 341.) The Sāraswata Brahmans are met with in many parts of India, and are usually fair-complexioned, tall, and handsome men. They are classed in the Jāti mālās, or popular lists of castes, amongst the five Gaura Brahmans, and are divided into ten tribes: they are said also to be especially the Purohits or family priests of the Kṣatriya or military castes: (see the Jāti mālā, printed in Price's Hindi Selections, II. 280:) circumstances in harmony with the purport of the legend, and confirmatory of the Sāraswatas of the Pañjab having been prominent agents in the establishment of the Hindu religion in India. The holy land of the Hindus, or the primary seat, perhaps, of Brahmanism, has for one of its boundaries the Sarasvatī river: see p. 181, n. 7.

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