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 VIII - How Vishnu is to be worshipped

As related by Aurva to Sagara

How Viṣṇu is to be worshipped, as related by Aurva to Sagara. Duties of the four castes, severally and in common: also in time of distress.

Maitreya said:—

Inform me, venerable teacher, how the supreme deity, the lord of the universe, Viṣṇu, is worshipped by those who are desirous of overcoming the world; and what advantages are reaped by men, assiduous in his adoration, from the propitiated Govinda.

Parāśara said:—

The question you have asked was formerly put by Sagara to Aurva[1]. I will repeat to you his reply.

Sagara having bowed down before Aurva, the descendant of Bhrigu, asked him what were the best means of pleasing Viṣṇu, and what would be the consequence of obtaining his favour. Aurva replied, “He who pleases Viṣṇu obtains all terrestrial enjoyments; heaven and a place in heaven; and what is best of all, final liberation: whatever he wishes, and to whatever extent, whether much or little, he receives it, when Achyuta is content with him. In what manner his favour is to be secured, that also I will, oh king, impart to you, agreeably to your desire. The supreme Viṣṇu is propitiated by a man who observes the institutions of caste, order, and purificatory practices: no other path is the way to please him. He who offers sacrifices, sacrifices to him; he who murmurs prayer, prays to him; he who injures living creatures, injures him; for Hari is all beings. Janārddana therefore is propitiated by him who is attentive to established observances, and follows the duties prescribed for his caste. The Brahman, the Kṣatriya, the Vaiśya, and the Śūdra, who attends to the rules enjoined his caste, best worships Viṣṇu. Keśava is most pleased with him who does good to others; who never utters abuse, calumny, or untruth; who never covets another's wife or another's wealth, and who bears ill-will towards none; who neither beats nor slays any animate or inanimate thing; who is ever diligent in the service of the gods, of the. Brahmans, and of his spiritual preceptor; who is always desirous of the welfare of all creatures, of his children, and of his own soul; in whose pure heart no pleasure is derived from the imperfections of love and hatred. The man, oh monarch, who conforms to the duties enjoined by scriptural authority for every caste and condition of life, is he who best worships Viṣṇu: there is no other mode.”

Aurva having thus spoken, Sagara said to him, “Tell me then, venerable Brahman, what are the duties of caste and condition[2]: I am desirous of knowing them.” To which Aurva answered and said, “Attentively listen to the duties which I shall describe as those severally of the Brahman, the Kṣatriya, the Vaiśya, and the Śūdra. The Brahman should make gifts, should worship the gods with sacrifices, should be assiduous in studying the Vedas, should perform ablutions and libations with water, and should preserve the sacred flame. For the sake of subsistence he may offer sacrifices on behalf of others, and may instruct them in the Śāstras; and he may accept presents of a liberal description in a becoming manner (or from respectable persons, and at an appropriate season). He must ever seek to promote the good of others, and do evil unto none; for the best riches of a Brahman are universal benevolence. He should look upon the jewels of another person as if they were pebbles; and should, at proper periods, procreate offspring by his wife. These are the duties of a Brahman.

”The man of the warrior tribe should cheerfully give presents to Brahmans, perform various sacrifices, and study the scriptures. His especial sources of maintenance are arms and the protection of the earth. The guardianship of the earth is indeed his especial province: by the discharge of this duty a king attains his objects, and realizes a share of the merit of all sacrificial rites. By intimidating the bad, and cerishing the good, the monarch who maintains the discipline of the different castes secures whatever region he desires.

Brahmā, the great parent of creation, gave to the Vaiśya the occupations of commerce and agriculture, and the feeding of flocks and herds, for his means of livelihood; and sacred study, sacrifice, and donation are also his duties, as is the observance of fixed and occasional rites.

”Attendance upon the three regenerate castes is the province of the Śūdra, and by that he is to subsist, or by the profits of trade, or the earnings of mechanical labour. He is also to make gifts; and he may offer the sacrifices in which food is presented, as well as obsequial offerings[3].

"Besides these their respective obligations, there are duties equally iñcumbent upon all the four castes. These are, the acquisition of property, for the support of their families; cohabitation with their wives, for the sake of progeny; tenderness towards all creatures, patience, humility, truth, purity, contentment, decency of decoration, gentleness of speech, friendliness; and freedom from envy and repining, from avarice, and from detraction. These also are the duties of every condition of life.

“In times of distress the peculiar functions of the castes may be modified, as you shall hear. A Brahman may follow the occupations of a Kṣatriya or a Vaiśya; the Kṣatriya may adopt those of the Vaiśya; and the Vaiśya those of the Kṣatriya: but these two last should never descend to the functions of the Śūdra, if it be possible to avoid them[4]; and if that be not possible, they must at least shun the functions of the mined castes. I will now, Rājā, relate to you the duties of the several Āsramas or conditions of life.”

Footnotes and references:


Sagara, as we shall see, was a king of the solar race. Aurva was a sage, the grandson of Bhrigu. When the sons of king Kritavīrya persecuted and slew the children of Bhrigu, to recover the wealth which their father had lavished upon them, they destroyed even the children in the womb. One of the women of the race of Bhrigu, in order to preserve her embryo, secreted it in her thigh (Uru), whence the child on his birth was named Aurva: from his wrath proceeded a flame, that threatened to destroy the world; but at the persuasion of his ancestors he cast it into the ocean, where it abode with the face of a horse. Aurva was afterwards religious preceptor to Sagara, and bestowed upon him the Āgneyāstram, or fiery weapon, with which he conquered the tribes of barbarians, who had invaded his patrimonial possessions. Mahābh. Ādi Parvan, Dāna Dharma P., Hari Vanśa.


Most of the Purāṇas, especially the Kūrma, Padma, Vāmana, Agni, and Garuḍa, contain chapters or sections more or less in detail upon the moral and ceremonial duties of the Hindus; and a considerable portion of the Mahābhārata, especially in the Mokṣa Dharma Parvan, is devoted to the same subject. No other Paurāṇik work, however, contains a series of chapters exactly analogous to those which follow, and which contain a compendious and systematic description of the Ācāras, or personal and social obligations of the Hindus. The tenor of the whole is conformable to the institutes of Manu, and many passages are the same.


The Pākayajña, or sacrifice in which food is offered, implies either the worship of the Viśvadevas, the rites of hospitality, or occasional oblations, on building a house, the birth of a child, or any occasion of rejoicing. It is to be understood, however, that this injunction intends his performing these ceremonies through the agency of a Brahman, as a Śūdra cannot repeat the Mantras or prayers that accompany them; and it might be a question how far he might be present, for he ought not even to hear such prayers repeated. The performance of funeral rites involves some personal share, and the Śūdra must present the cakes, but it must be done without Mantras; as the Mitākṣara; ‘This rite (the presentation of cakes) must be performed by the Śūdras, without formula:, on the twelfth day.’ The Vāyu P. directs the performance of the five great sacrifices by Śūdras, only omitting the Mantras: It may be suspected that the Purāṇas relaxed in some degree from the original rigour; for it may be inferred that the great ceremonies were altogether withheld from Śūdras in the time of Manu, who declares that none have any right or part (Adhikāra) in his code except those who perform rites with Mantras, or the three regenerate castes (II. 16); and denounces as heinous sins teaching the p. 293 Vedas to Śūdras, performing sacrifices for them, or taking gifts from them. X. 309, 110, 111. Yājñawalkya, however, allows them to perform five great rites with the Namaskāra, or the simple salutation: which Gotama confirms. Some restrict the sense of Mantra, also, to the prayers of the Vedas, and allow the Śūdras to use those of the Purāṇas; as Śūlapāni: and the Titthi Tatwa is cited in the Śūdra Kamalākāra as allowing them any Mantras except those of the Vedas.


This last clause reconciles what would else appear to be an incompatibility with Manu, who permits the Vaiśya in time of distress to descend to the servile acts of a Śūdra. X. 98.

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