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 - Hymns of destroying the Nagas, origin of Sagara

Saubhari and his wives adopt an ascetic life. Descendants of Māndhātri. Legend of Narmadā and Purukutsa. Legend of Triśaṅku. Bāhu driven from his kingdom by the Haihayas and Tālajaṅghas. Birth of Sagara: he conquers the barbarians, imposes upon them distinguishing usages, and excludes them from offerings to fire, and the study of the Vedas.

HAVING thus communed with himself, Saubhari abandoned his children, his home, and all his splendour, and, accompanied by his wives, entered the forest, where he daily practised the observances followed by the ascetics termed Vaikhānasas (or anchorets having families), until he had cleansed himself from all sin. When his intellect had attained maturity, he concentrated in his spirit the sacramental fires[1], and became a religious mendicant. Then having consigned all his acts to the supreme, he obtained the condition of Achyuta, which knows no change, and is not subject to the vicissitudes of birth, transmigration, or death. Whoever reads, or hears, or remembers, or understands, this legend of Saubhari, and his espousal of the daughters of Māndhātri, shall never, for eight successive births, be addicted to evil thoughts, nor shall he act unrighteously, nor shall his mind dwell upon improper objects, nor shall he be influenced by selfish attachments. The line of Māndhātri is now resumed.

The son of Ambarīṣa, the son of Māndhātri, was Yuvanāśva; his son was Harita[2], from whom the Aṅgirasa Hāritas were descended[3].

In the regions below the earth the Gandharvas called Mauneyas (or sons of the Muni Kaśyapa), who were sixty millions in number, had defeated the tribes of the Nāgas, or snake-gods, and seized upon their most precious jewels, and usurped their dominion. Deprived of their power by the Gandharvas, the serpent chiefs addressed the god of the gods, as he awoke from his slumbers; and the blossoms of his lotus eyes opened while listening to their hymns. They said, “Lord, how shall we be delivered from this great fear?” Then replied the first of males, who is without beginning, “I will enter into the person of Purukutsa, the son of Māndhātri, the son of Yuvanāśva, and in him will I quiet these iniquitous Gandharvas.” On hearing these words, the snake-gods bowed and withdrew, and returning to their country dispatched Narmadā to solicit the aid of Purukutsa[4].

Narmadā accordingly went to Purukutsa, and conducted him to the regions below the earth, where, being filled with the might of the deity, he destroyed the Gandharvas. He then returned to his own palace; and the snake-gods, in acknowledgment of Narmadā's services, conferred upon her as a blessing, that whosoever should think of her, and invoke her name, should never have any dread of the venom of snakes. This is the invocation; “Salutation be to Narmadā in the morning; salutation be to Narmadā at night; salutation be to thee, O Narmadā! defend me from the serpent's poison.” Whoever repeats this day and night, shall never be bitten by a snake in the dark nor in entering a chamber; nor shall he who calls it to mind when he eats suffer any injury from poison, though it be mixed with his food. To Purukutsa also the snake-gods announced that the series of his descendants should never be cut off.

Purukutsa had a son by Narmadā named Trasadasyu, whose son was Sambhūta[5], whose son was Anaraṇya, who was slain, by Rāvaṇa in his triumphant progress through the nations. The son of Anaraṇya was Pṛṣadaśva; his son was Haryyaśva; his son was Sumanas[6]; his son was Tridhanwan; his son was Trayyāruṇa; and his son was Satyavrata, who obtained the appellation of Triśaṅku, and was degraded to the condition of a Cāṇḍāla, or outcast[7]. During a twelve years' famine Triśaṅku provided the flesh of deer for the nourishment of the wife and children of Viswamitra, suspending it upon a spreading fig-tree on the borders of the Ganges, that he might not subject them to the indignity of receiving presents from an outcast. On this account Viśvāmitra, being highly pleased with him, elevated him in his living body to heaven[8].

The son of Triśaṅku was Hariścandra[9]; his son was Rohitāśva[10]; his son was Harita[11]; his son was Cuñcu[12], who had two sons named Vijaya and Sudeva. Ruruka[13] was the son of Vijaya, and his own son was Vrika, whose son was Bāhu (or Bāthuka). This prince was vanquished by the tribes of Haihayas and Tālajaṅghas[14], anti his country was overrun by them; in consequence of which he fled into the forests with his wives. One of these was pregnant, and being an object of jealousy to a rival queen, the latter gave her poison to prevent her delivery. The poison had the effect of confining the child in the womb for seven years. Bāhu, having waxed old, died in the neighbourhood of the residence of the Muni Aurva. His queen having constructed his pile, ascended it with the determination of accompanying him in death; but the sage Aurva, who knew all things, past, present, and to come, issued forth from his hermitage, and forbade her, saying, “Hold! hold! this is unrighteous; a valiant prince, the monarch of many realms, the offerer of many sacrifices, the destroyer of his foes, a universal emperor, is in thy womb; think not of committing so desperate an act!” Accordingly, in obedience to his injunctions, she relinquished her intention. The sage then conducted, her to his abode, and after some time a very splendid boy was there born. Along with him the poison that had been given to his mother was expelled; and Aurva, after performing the ceremonies required at birth, gave him on that account the name of Sagara (from Sa, ‘with,’ and Gara, ‘poison’). The same holy sage celebrated his investure with the cord of his class, instructed him fully in the Vedas, and taught him the use of arms, especially those of fire, called after Bhārgava.

When the boy had grown up, and was capable of reflection, he said to his mother one day, “Why are we dwelling in this hermitage? where is my father? and who is he?” His mother, in reply, related to him all that had happened. Upon hearing which he was highly incensed, and vowed to recover his patrimonial kingdom; and exterminate the Haihayas and Tālajaṅghas, by whom it had been overrun. Accordingly when he became a man he put nearly the whole of the Haihayas to death, and would have also destroyed the Śakas, the Yavanas, Kāmbojas, Pāradas, and Pahnavas[15], but that they applied to Vaśiṣṭha, the family priest of Sagara, for protection. Vaśiṣṭha regarding them as annihilated (or deprived of power), though living, thus spake to Sagara: “Enough, enough, my son, pursue no farther these objects of your wrath, whom you may look upon as no more. In order to fulfil your vow I have separated them from affinity to the regenerate tribes, and from the duties of their castes.” Sagara, in compliance with the injunctions of his spiritual guide, contented himself therefore with imposing upon the vanquished nations peculiar distinguishing marks. He made the Yavanas[16] shave their heads entirely; the Śakas he compelled to shave (the upper) half of their heads; the Pāradas wore their hair long; and the Pahnavas let their beards grow, in obedience to his commands[17]. Them also, and other Kṣatriya races, he deprived of the established usages of oblations to fire and the study of the Vedas; and thus separated from religious rites, and abandoned by the Brahmans, these different tribes became Mlecchas. Sagara, after the recovery of his kingdom, reigned over the seven-zoned earth with undisputed dominion[18].

This page consists solely of footnotes.

Footnotes and references:


So Manu; “Having reposited, as the law directs, the holy fires in his breast,” &c. VI. 25.


The Vāyu, Liṅga, Kūrma, and Bhāgavata agree in this series; the others omit it.


The words of the text are ###, and the commentator explains the phrase, ‘the Aṅgirasa Brahmans, of whom the Hārita family was the chief.’ The Liṅga reads, ‘Harita was the son of Yuvanāśva, whose sons were the Hāritas; they were on the part (or followers) of Aṅgiras, and were Brahmans with the properties of Kṣatriyas.’ The Vāyu has, ‘Harita was the son of Yuvanāśva, from whom were many called p. 370 Hāritas; they were sons of Aṅgiras, and Brahmans with the properties of Kṣatriyas.’ The Bhāgavata has only, These (Ambarīṣa, Purukutsa, and Harita) were, according to Śridhara Svāmi's comment, the chiefs of Māndhātri's descendants, being founders of three several branches: or it may mean, he says, merely that they had Māndhātri for their progenitor, Māndhātri being by some also named Aṅgiras, according to Aśvalāyana. It may be questioned if the compilers of the Purāṇas, or their annotators, knew exactly what to make of this and similar phrases, although they were probably intended to intimate that some persons of Kṣatriya origin became the. disciples of certain Brahmans, particularly of Aṅgiras, and afterwards founders of schools of religious instruction themselves. Māndhātri himself is the author of a hymn in the Rig-veda. As. Res. VIII. 385. Hārita is the name of an individual sage, considered as the son of Chyavana, and to whom a work on law is attributed. It is probably rather that of a school, however, than of an individual.


Narmadā, the personified Nerbudda river, was, according to the Bhāgavata, the sister of the Nāgas.


We have some varieties here. Instead of Trasadasyu the Matsya has Dussaha, whom it makes the husband of Narmadā, and father of Sambhūti, the father of Tridhanwan. The Bhāgavata omits Sambhūti; the Liṅga makes him the brother of Trasadasyu; and the Agni has in his place Sudhanwan.


Vṛṣadaśva: Vāyu. The Matsya, Agni, and Brāhma omit all between Sambhūta and Tridhanwan. The Bhāgavata has a rather different series, or Anaraṇya, Haryyaśva, Aruṇa, Tribandhana, Triśaṅku. As Anaraṇya is famous in Hindu story, and Trayyāruṇa is a contributor to the Rig-veda, their omission shews careless compilation.


The Vāyu states he was banished by his father for his wickedness (Adharma). The Brāhma P. and Hari Vaṃśa detail his iniquity at length; and it is told more concisely in the Liṅga. He carried off the betrothed wife of another man, one of the citizens according to the two former, of Vidarbha according to the latter: for this, his father, by the advice of Vaśiṣṭha, banished him, and he took refuge with Śvapākas. The Rāmāyaṇa has a different story, and ascribes Triśaṅku's degradation to the curse of the sons of Vaśiṣṭha, to whom the king had applied to conduct his sacrifice, after their father had refused to do so. Before that, he is described as a pious prince, and the object of his sacrifice was to ascend to heaven.


The occurrence of the famine, and Satyavrata's care of the wife and family of Viśvāmitra, are told, with some variations, in the Vāyu, which has been followed by p. 372 the Brāhma and Hari Vaṃśa. During the famine, when game finis he kills the cow of Vaśiṣṭha; and for the three crimes of displeasing his father, killing a cow, and eating flesh not previously consecrated, he acquires the name of Triśaṅku (tri, ‘three,’ śaṅku, ‘sin’). Vaśiṣṭha refusing to perform his regal inauguration, Viśvāmitra celebrates the rites, and on his death elevates the king in his mortal body to heaven. The Rāmāyaṇa relates the same circumstance, but assigns to it a different motive, Viśvāmitra's resentment of the refusal of the gods to attend Triśaṅku's sacrifice. That work also describes the attempt of the gods to cast the king down upon earth, and the compromise between them and Viśvāmitra, by which Triśaṅku was left suspended, head downwards, in mid-air, forming a constellation in the southern hemisphere, along with other new planets and stars formed by Viśvāmitra. The Bhāgavata has an allusion to this legend, saying that Triśaṅku is still visible in heaven. The Vāyu furnishes some further information from an older source. Both my copies leave a blank where it is marked, and a similar passage does not elsewhere occur; but the word should probably be ###, and the whole may be thus rendered: ‘Men acquainted with the Purāṇas recite these two stanzas; “By the favour of Viśvāmitra the illustrious Triśaṅku shines in heaven along with the gods, through the kindness of that sage. Slowly passes the lovely night in winter, embellished by the moon, decorated with three watches, and ornamented with the constellation Triśaṅku:”’ This legend is therefore clearly astronomical, and alludes possibly to some reformation of the sphere by Viśvāmitra, under the patronage of Triśaṅku, and in opposition to a more ancient system advocated by the school of Vaśiṣṭha. It might be no very rash conjecture, perhaps, to identify Triśaṅku with Orion, the three bright stars of whose belt may have suggested the three Śaṅkus (stakes or pins) which form his name.


The Paurāṇik lists generally dismiss Hariścandra very summarily, but he makes a conspicuous figure in legends of an apparently later date. In the Mahābhārata, Sabhā Parva, it is stated that he resides in the court of Indra, to which he was elevated for his performance of the Rājasūya sacrifice, and for his unbounded liberality. This seems to have served as the groundwork of the tale told in the Mārkaṇḍeya and Padma Purāṇas, of his having given his whole country, his wife and son, and finally himself, to Viśvāmitra, in satisfaction of his demands for Dakṣiṇā. In consequence he was elevated with his subjects to heaven, from whence, having been insidiously led by Nāreda to boast of his merits, he was again precipitated. His repentance of his pride, however, arrested his downward descent, and he and his train paused in mid-air. The city of Hariścandra is popularly believed to be at times still p. 373 visible in the skies. The indignation of Vaśiṣṭha at Viśvāmitra's insatiableness produced a quarrel, in which their mutual imprecations changed them to two birds, the Śarāli, a sort of Turdus, and the Baka, or crane. In these forms they fought for a considerable term, until Brahmā interposed, and reconciled them. The Bhāgavata alludes to this story, in its notice of Hariścandra; but the Vāyu refers the conflict to the reign of a different prince: see c. 2. n. 11. According to the Śiva P., Hariścandra was an especial worshipper of that deity; and his wife Satyavatī was a form of Jayā, one of Durga's handmaids.


Also read Rohita. Traces of his name appear in the strong holds of Rotas, in Behar and in the Pañjab. The Bhāgavata has a legend of his having been devoted to Varuṇa, before his birth, by his father, who having on various pleas deferred offering his son as promised, was afflicted by a dropsy. Rohita at last purchased Śunahśephas, who was offered as a victim in his stead: see hereafter, note on Śunahśephas.


Omitted: Agni, Liṅga, and Matsya.


Omitted: Agni. Dhundhu: Liṅga and Kūrma. Champa, founder of Campamālinī: Bhāgavata. But all other authorities make Champa a different person, a descendant of Anga: see family of Ann, of the lunar race.


Kuruka: Liṅga and Kūrma. Bharuka: Bhāgavata.


Descendants of Yadu. The first springs from a prince who is the twelfth, and ṭhe second from one who is the eighteenth, in the lunar line, and both are thus cotemporary with a prince who is the thirty-fifth of the solar dynasty. The Vāyu adds, that they were assisted by Śakas, Yavanas, Kāmbojas, Pāravas, and Pahlavas.


The Haihayas we shall have farther occasion to notice. The Śakas are, no doubt, the Sacæ or Sakai of the classical geographers, Scythians and Indo-Scythians, Turk or Tartar tribes, who established themselves, about a century and a half before our era, along the western districts of India, and who are not improbably connected with our Saxon forefathers. The Yavanas are the Ionians or Greeks. The Kāmbojas were a people on the northwest of India, of whom it is said that they were remarkable for a capital breed of horses. There is an apparent trace of their name in the Caumogees of Kaferistan, who may have retreated to the mountains before the advance of the Turk tribes. (Elphinstone's Caubul, 619: see also before, p. 194. n. 146.) The Pāradas and Pahlavas or Pahnavas may designate other bordering tribes in the same direction, or on the confines of Persia. Along with these, in the legend that follows, the Bhāgavata enumerates Barbaras. The Vāyu adds Māhishikas, Chaulas, Dārvas, and Khasas: the two former of which are people on the Malabar and Coromandel coasts; the two latter are usually placed amongst the mountaineers of the Hindu Kosh. The Brāhma P. lengthens the list with the Kolas, the forest races of eastern Gondwana; the Sarpas and thep. 375 Keralas, who are the people of Malabar. The Hari Vaṃśa still farther extends the enumeration with the Tuṣaras or Tokharas, the Turks of Tokharestan; the Chinas, Chinese; the Mādras, people in the Pañjab; the Kiṣkindhas, in Mysore; Kauntalas, along the Narbudda; Baṅgas, Bengalis; Śālvas, people in western India; and the Konkanas, or inhabitants of the Concan. It is evident from the locality of most of the additions of the last authority, that its compiler or corrupter has been a native of the Dekhin.


And Kāmbojas: Vāyu.


The Asiatic nations generally shave the head either wholly or in part. Amongst the Greeks it was common to shave the fore part of the head, a custom introduced, according to Plutarch, by the Abantes, whom Homer calls ὄπιθεν κομοῶντες and followed, according to Xenophon, by the Lacedæmonians. It may be doubted, however, if the Greeks or Ionians ever shaved the head completely. The practice prevails amongst the Mohammedans, but it is not universal. The Śakas, Scythians or Tartars, shave the fore part of the head, gathering the hair at the back into a long tail, as do the Chinese. The mountaineers of the Himalaya shave the crown of the head, as do the people of Kaferistan, with exception of a single tuft. What Oriental people wore their hair long, except at the back of the head, is questionable; and the usage would be characteristic rather of the Teutonic and Gothic nations. The ancient Persians had long bushy beards, as the Persepolitan sculptures demonstrate. In Chardin's time they were out of fashion, but they were again in vogue in that country in the reign of the last king, Fateh Shuh.


So the Vāyu, &c.; and a similar p. 376 statement is given in Manu, X. 44, where to the Śakas, Yavanas, Kāmbojas, Pāradas, and Pahnavas, are added the Paṇḍaras (people of western Bengal), Oḍras (those of Orissa), Drāviras (of the Coromandel coast), Chinas (Chinese), Kirātas (mountaineers), and Daradas (Durds of the Hindu Koh). From this passage, and a similar one in the Rāmāyaṇa, in which the Chinas are mentioned, the late Mr. Klaproth inferred those works to be not older than the third century B. C., when the reigning dynasty of Thsin first gave that name to China (see also p. 194. n. 145.) It was probable, he supposed, that the Hindus became acquainted with the Chinese only about 200 B. C., when their arms extended to the Oxus; but it is difficult to reconcile this date with the difference of style between the Rāmāyaṇa particularly and the works of the era of Vikramāditya. It would seem more likely that the later appellations were interpolated. It must have been a period of some antiquity, when all the nations from Bengal to the Coromandel coast were considered as Mlecchas and outcasts.

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