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 IV - Ashvamedha sacrifice of Sagara

The progeny of Sagara: their wickedness: he performs an Aśvamedha: the horse stolen by Kapila: found by Sagara's sons, who are all destroyed by the sage: the horse recovered by Aṃśumat: his descendants. Legend of Mitrasaha or Kalmāṣapāda, the son of Sudāsa. Legend of Khaṭvāṅga. Birth of Rāma and the other sons of Daśaratha. Epitome of the history of Rāma: his descendants, and those of his brothers. Line of Kuśa. Vrihadbala, the last, killed in the great war.

SUMATI the daughter of Kaśyapa, and Kesinī the daughter of Rāja Viderbha, were the two wives of Sagara[1]. Being without progeny, the king solicited the aid of the sage Aurva with great earnestness, and the Muni pronounced this boon, that one wife should bear one son, the upholder of his race, and the other should give birth to sixty thousand sons; and he left it to them to make their election. Kesinī chose to have the single son; Sumati the multitude: and it came to pass in a short time that the former bore Asamañjas[2], a prince through whom the dynasty continued; and the daughter of Vinatā (Sumati) had sixty thousand sons. The son of Asamañjas was Aṃśumat.

Asamañjas was from his boyhood of very irregular conduct. His father hoped that as he grew up to manhood he would reform; but finding that he continued guilty of the same immorality, Sagara abandoned him. The sixty thousand sons of Sagara followed the example of their brother Asamañjas. The path of virtue and piety being obstructed in the world by the sons of Sagara, the gods repaired to the Muni Kapila, who was a portion of Viṣṇu, free from fault, and endowed with all true wisdom. Having approached him with respect, they said, “O lord, what will become of the world, if these sons of Sagara are permitted to go on in the evil ways which they have learned from Asamañjas! Do thou, then, assume a visible form, for the protection of the afflicted universe.” “Be satisfied,” replied the sage, “in a brief time the sons of Sagara shall be all destroyed.”

At that period Sagara commenced the performance of the solemn sacrifice of a horse, who was guarded by his own sons: nevertheless some one stole the animal, and carried it off into a chasm in the earth, Sagara commanded his sons to search for the steed; and they, tracing him by the impressions of his hoofs, followed his course with perseverance, until coming to the chasm where he had entered, they proceeded to enlarge it, and dug downwards each for a league. Coming to Pātāla, they beheld the horse wandering freely about, and at no great distance from him they saw the Ṛṣi Kapila sitting, with his head declined in meditation, and illuminating the surrounding space with radiance as bright as the splendours of the autumnal sun, shining in an unclouded sky. Exclaiming, “This is the villain who has maliciously interrupted our sacrifice, and stolen the horse! kill him! kill him!” they ran towards him with uplifted weapons. The Muni slowly raised his eyes, and for an instant looked upon them, and they were reduced to ashes by the sacred flame that darted from his person[3].

When Sagara learned that his sons, whom he had sent in pursuit of the sacrificial steed, had been destroyed by the might of the great Ṛṣi Kapila, he dispatched Aṃśumat, the son of Asamaujas, to effect the animals recovery. The youth, proceeding by the deep path which the princes had dug, arrived where Kapila was, and bowing respectfully, prayed to him, and so propitiated him, that the saint said, “Go, my son, deliver the horse to your grandfather; and demand a boon; thy grandson shall bring down the river of heaven on the earth.” Aṃśumat requested as a boon that his uncles, who had perished through the sage's displeasure, might, although unworthy of it, be raised to heaven through his favour. “I have told you,” replied Kapila, “that your grandson shall bring down upon earth the Ganges of the gods; and when her waters shall wash the bones and ashes of thy grandfather's sons, they shall be raised to Svarga. Such is the efficacy of the stream that flows from the toe of Viṣṇu, that it confers heaven upon all who bathe in it designedly, or who even become accidentally immersed in it: those even shall obtain Svarga, whose bones, skin, fibres, hair, or any other part, shall be left after death upon the earth which is contiguous to the Ganges.” Having acknowledged reverentially the kindness of the sage, Aṃśumat returned to his grandfather, and delivered to him the horse. Sagara, on recovering the steed, completed his sacrifice; and in affectionate memory of his sons, denominated Sāgara the chasm which they had dug[4].

The son of Aṃśumat was Dilīpa[5]; his son was Bhagīratha, who brought Gaṅgā down to earth, whence she is called Bhāgirathī. The son of Bhagīratha was Śruta[6]; his son was Nābhāga[7]; his son was Ambarīṣa; his son was Sindhudvīpa; his son was Ayutāśva[8]; his son was Rituparṇa, the friend of Nala, skilled profoundly in dice[9]. The son of Rituparṇa was Sarvakāma[10]; his son was Sudāsa; his son was Saudāsa, named also Mitrasaha[11].

The son of Sudāsa having gone into the woods to hunt, fell in with a couple of tigers, by whom the forest had been cleared of the deer. The king slew one of these tigers with an arrow. At the moment of expiring, the form of the animal was changed, and it became that of a fiend of fearful figure, and hideous aspect. Its companion, threatening the prince with its vengeance, disappeared.

After some interval Saudāsa celebrated a sacrifice, which was conducted by Vaśiṣṭha. At the close of the rite Vaśiṣṭha went out; when the Rākṣas, the fellow of the one that had been killed in the figure of a tiger, assumed the semblance of Vaśiṣṭha, and came and said to the king, “Now that the sacrifice is ended, you must give me flesh to eat: let it be cooked, and I will presently return.” Having said this, he withdrew, and, transforming himself into the shape of the cook, dressed some human flesh, which he brought to the king, who, receiving it on a plate of gold, awaited the reappearance of Vaśiṣṭha. As soon as the Muni returned, the king offered to him the dish. Vaśiṣṭha surprised at such want of propriety in the king, as his offering him meat to eat, considered what it should be that was so presented, and by the efficacy of his meditations discovered that it was human flesh. His mind being agitated with wrath, he denounced a curse upon the Rājā, saying, “Inasmuch as you have insulted all such holy men as we are, by giving me what is not to be eaten, your appetite shall henceforth be excited by similar food.”

“It was yourself,” replied the Rājā to the indignant sage, “who commanded this food to be prepared.” “By me!” exclaimed Vaśiṣṭha; “how could that have been?” and again having recourse to meditation, he detected the whole truth. Foregoing then all displeasure towards the king, he said, “The food to which I have sentenced you shall not be your sustenance for ever; it shall only be so for twelve years.” The king, who had taken up water in the palms of his hands, and was prepared to curse the Muni, now considered that Vaśiṣṭha was his spiritual guide, and being reminded by Madayantī his queen that it ill became him to denounce an imprecation upon a holy teacher, who was the guardian divinity of his race, abandoned his intention.

Unwilling to cast the water upon the earth, lest it should wither up the grain, for it was impregnated with his malediction, and equally reluctant to throw it up into the air, lest it should blast the clouds, and dry up their contents, he threw it upon, his own feet. Scalded by the heat which the water had derived from his angry imprecation, the feet of the Rājā became spotted black and white, and he thence obtained the name of Kalmāṣapāda, or he with the spotted (kalmāṣa) feet (pāda).

In consequence of the curse of Vaśiṣṭha, the Rājā became a cannibal every sixth watch of the day for twelve years, and in that state wandered through the forests, and devoured multitudes of men. On one occasion he beheld a holy person engaged in dalliance with his wife. As soon as they saw his terrific form, they were frightened, and endeavoured to escape; but the regal Rākṣasa overtook and seized the husband. The wife of the Brahman then also desisted from flight, and earnestly entreated the savage to spare her lord, exclaiming, “Thou, Mitrasaha, art the pride of the royal house of Ikṣvāku, not a malignant fiend! it is not in thy nature, who knowest the characters of women, to carry off and devour my husband.” But all was in vain, and, regardless of her reiterated supplications, he ate the Brahman, as a tiger devours a deer. The Brahman's wife, furious with wrath, then addressed the Rājā, and said, “Since you have barbarously disturbed the joys of a wedded pair, and killed my husband, your death shall be the consequence of your associating with your queen.” So saying, she entered the flames.

At the expiration of the period of his curse Saudāsa returned home. Being reminded of the imprecation of the Brahmani by his wife Madayantī, he abstained from conjugal intercourse, and was in consequence childless; but having solicited the interposition of Vaśiṣṭha, Madayantī became pregnant. The child, however, was not born for seven years, when the queen, becoming impatient, divided the womb with a sharp stone, and was thereby delivered. The child was thence called Aśmaka (from Aśman, ‘a stone’). The son of Aśmaka was Mūlaka, who, when the warrior tribe was extirpated upon earth, was surrounded and concealed by a number of females; whence he was denominated Nārīkavaca (having women for armour)[12]. The son of Mūlaka was Daśaratha; his son was Ilavila; his son was Viśvasaha; his son was Khaṭvāṅga, called also Dilīpa[13], who in a battle between the gods and the Asuras, being called by the former to their succour, killed a number of the latter. Having thus acquired the friendship of the deities in heaven, they desired him to demand a boon. He said to them, “If a boon is to be accepted by me, then tell me, as a favour, what is the duration of my life.” “The length of your life is but an hour,” the gods replied. On which, Khaṭvāṅga, who was swift of motion, descended in his easy-gliding chariot to the world of mortals. Arrived there, he prayed, and said, “If my own soul has never been dearer to me than the sacred Brahmans; if I have never deviated from the discharge of my duty; if I have never regarded gods, men, animals, vegetables, all created things, as different from the imperishable; then may I, with unswerving step, attain to that divine being on whom holy sages meditate!” Having thus spoken, he was united with that supreme being, who is Vāsudeva; with that elder of all the gods, who is abstract existence, and whose form cannot be described. Thus he obtained absorption, according to this stanza, which was repeated formerly by the seven Ṛṣis; “Like unto Khaṭvāṅga will be no one upon earth, who having come from heaven, and dwelt an hour amongst men, became united with the three worlds by his liberality and knowledge of truth[14].”

The son of Khaṭvāṅga was Dīrghabāhu; his son was Raghu; his son was Aja; his son was Daśaratha[15]. The god from whose navel the lotus springs became fourfold, as the four sons of Daśaratha, Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa, Bharata, and Śatrughna, for the protection of the world. Rāma, whilst yet a boy, accompanied Visvāmitra, to protect his sacrifice, and slew Tāḍakā. He afterwards killed Mārica with his resistless shafts; and Subāhu and others fell by his arms. He removed the guilt of Ahalyā by merely looking upon her. In the palace of Janaka he broke with ease the mighty bow of Maheśvara, and received the hand of Sītā, the daughter of the king, self-born from the earth, as the prize of his prowess. He humbled the pride of Paraśurāma, who vaunted his triumphs over the race of Haihaya, and his repeated slaughters of the Kṣatriya tribe. Obedient to the commands of his father, and cerishing no regret for the loss of sovereignty, he entered the forest, accompanied by his brother Lakṣmaṇa and by his wife, where he killed in conflict Virādha, Kharadūṣana and other Rākṣasas, the headless giant Kabandha, and Bāli the monkey monarch. Having built a bridge across the ocean, and destroyed the whole Rākṣasa nation, he recovered his bride Sītā, whom their ten-headed king Rāvaṇa had carried off, and returned to Ayodhyā with her, after she had been purified by the fiery ordeal from the soil contracted by her captivity, and had been honoured by the assembled gods, who bore witness to her virtue[16].

Bharata made himself master of the country of the Gandharvas, after destroying vast numbers of them; and Śatrughna having killed the Rākṣasa chief Lavaṇa, the son of Madhu, took possession of his capital Mathurā.

Having thus, by their unequalled valour and might, rescued the whole world from the dominion of malignant fiends, Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa, Bharata, and Śatrughna reascended to heaven, and were followed by those of the people of Kośala who were fervently devoted to these incarnate portions of the supreme Viṣṇu.

Rāma and his brothers had each two sons. Kuśa and Lava were the sons of Rāma; those of Lakṣmaṇa were Aṅgada and Candraketu; the sons of Bharata were Takṣa and Puṣkara; and Subāhu and Śūrasena[17] were the sons of Śatrughna.

The son of Kuśa was Atithi; his son was Niṣadha; his son was Nala[18]; his son was Nabhas; his son was Puṇḍarīka; his son was Kṣemadhanwan; his son was Devānīka; his son was Ahīnagu[19]; his son was Pāripātra; his son was Dala[20]; his son was Chala[21]; his son was Uktha[22]; his son was Vajranābha; his son was Śaṅkhanābha[23]; his son was Abhyutthitāśva[24]; his son was Viśvasaha[25]; his son was Hiraṇyanābha, who was a pupil of the mighty Yogī Jaimini, and communicated the knowledge of spiritual exercises to Yājñawalkya[26]. The son of this saintly king was Puṣya; his son was Dhruvasandhi[27]; his son was Sudarśana; his son was Agnivarṇa; his son was Śīghra; his son was Maru[28], who through the power of devotion (Yoga) is still living in the village called Kalāpa, and in a future age will be the restorer of the Kṣatriya race in the solar dynasty. Maru had a son named Prasuśruta; his son was Susandhi; his son was Amarsha; his son was Mahaswat[29]; his son was Viśrutavat[30]; and his son was Vrihadbala, who was killed in the great war by Abhimanyu, the son of Añjuna. These are the most distinguished princes in the family of Ikṣvāku: whoever listens to the account of them will be purified from all his sins[31].}

Footnotes and references:


So the Rāmāyaṇa. Sumati is called the daughter of Aṛṣṭanemi: the Mahābhārata calls her Śaivyā. The story of Sagara and his descendants is told at length in the Rāmāyaṇa, first book, and in the Mahābhārata, Vana Parva, III. 106, et seq., as well as in most of the Purāṇas.


The Bhāgavata has, for a Purāṇa, some curious remarks on this part of the story, flatly denying its truth. ‘The report is not true, that the sons of the king were scorched by the wrath of the sage; for how can the quality of darkness, made up of anger, exist in a world-purifying nature, consisting of the quality of goodness; the dust of earth, as it were, in the sky? How should mental perturbation distract that sage, who was one with the supreme, and who has promulgated that Saṅkhyā philosophy, which is a strong vessel, by which he who is desirous of liberation passes over the dangerous ocean of the world by the path of death?’


Sāgara is still the name of the ocean, and especially of the bay of Bengal, at the mouth of the Ganges. On the shore of the island called by the same name, tradition places a Kapilāśrama, or hermitage of Kapila, which is still the scene of an annual pilgrimage. Other legends assign a very different situation for the abode of the ascetic, or the foot of the Himālaya, where the Ganges descends to the plains. There would be no incompatibility, however, in the two sites, could we imagine the tradition referred to a period when the ocean washed, as it appears once to have done, the base of the Himālaya, and Saugor (Sāgara) was at Harīdwar.


Or Khaṭvāṅga: Brāhma and Hari Vaṃśa: but this is apparently an error. See note 14.


Omitted: Matsya and Agni. Viśruta: Liṅga.


Nābhin: Bhāgavata.


Ayutāyus: Vāyu, Liṅga, and Kūrma. Śrutāyus: Agni. Ayutajit: Brāhma.


'knowing the heart of the dice.' The same epithet, as well as that of ‘friend of Nala,’ is given him in the Vāyu, Bhāgavata, and Brāhma Purāṇas, p. 380 and in the Hari Vaṃśa, and leaves no doubt of their referring to the hero of the story told in the Mahābhārata. Nara however, as we shall hereafter see, is some twenty generations later than Rituparṇa in the same family; and the Vāyu therefore thinks it necessary to observe that two Nalas are noticed in the Purāṇas, and the one here adverted to is the son of Vīrasena; whilst the other belongs to the family of Ikṣvāku. The same passage occurs in the Brāhma P. and Hari V.; and the commentator on the latter observes, ‘Nala the son of Niṣadha is different from Nala the son of Vīrasena.’ It is also to be observed, that the Nala of the tale is king of Niṣadha, and his friend Rituparṇa is king of Ayodhya. The Nala of the race of Ikṣvāku is king of Ayodhyā: he is the son of Niṣadha, however, and there is evidently some confusion between the two. We do not find Vīrasena or his son in any of the lists. See n. 19.


There is considerable variety in this part of the lists, but the Vāyu and Bhāgavata agree with our text. The Matsya and others make Kalmāṣapāda the son or grandson of Rituparṇa, and place Sarvakāma or Sarvakarman after him. See further on.


The Vāyu, Agni, Brāhma, and Hari Vaṃśa read Amitrasaha, ‘foe-enduring;’ but the commentator on our text explains it Mitra, a name of Vaśiṣṭha, Saha, ‘able to bear’ the imprecation of; as in the following legend, which is similarly related in the Bhāgavata. It is not detailed in the Vāyu. A full account occurs in the Mahābhārata, Ādi P., s. 176, but with many and important variations. Kalmāṣapāda, whilst hunting, encountered Śaktri, the son of Vaśiṣṭha, in the woods; and on his refusing to make way, struck the sage with his whip. Śaktri cursed the king to become a cannibal; and Visvāmitra, who had a quarrel with Vaśiṣṭha, seized the opportunity to direct a Rākṣas to take possession of the king, that he might become the instrument of destroying the family of the rival saint. Whilst thus influenced, Mitrasaha, a Brahman, applied to Kalmāṣapāda for food, and the king commanded his cook to dress human flesh, and give it to the Brahman, who, knowing what it was, repeated the curse of Śaktri, that the king should become a cannibal; which taking effect with double force, Kalmāṣapāda began to eat men. One of his first victims was Śaktri, whom he slew and ate; and then killed and devoured, under the secret impulse of Viśvāmitra's demon, all the other sons of Vaśiṣṭha. Vaśiṣṭha however liberated him from the Rākṣas who possessed him, and restored him to his natural character. The imprecation of the Brahman's wife, and its consequences, are told in the Mahābhārata as in the text; but the story of the water falling on his feet appears to have grown out of the etymology of his name, which might have referred to some disease of the lower extremities, the prince's designation being at length, Mitrasaha Saudāsa Kalmāṣapāda, or Mitrasaha, son of Sudāsa, with the swelled feet.


His name Mūlaka, or ‘the root,’ refers also to his being the stem whence the Kṣatriya races again proceeded. It may be doubted if the purport of his title Nārīkavaca is accurately explained by the text.


This prince is confounded with an earlier Dilīpa by the Brāhma P. and Hari Vaṃśa.


The term for his obtaining final liberation is rather unusual; ‘By whom the three worlds were affected or beloved:’ the three worlds being identified with their source, or the supreme. The text says of this stanza ###, and the Vāyu, citing it, says ###, the legend is therefore from the Vedas.


The lists here differ very materially, as the following comparison will best shew: p. 384


This is an epitome of the Rāmāyaṇa, the heroic poem of Vālmīki, on the subject of Rāma's exploits. A part of the Rāmāyaṇa was published, with a translation by Messrs. Carey and Marshman, several years since; but a much more correct edition of the text of the two first books, with a Latin translation of the first, and part of the second, have been more recently published by Professor Schlegel; a work worthy of his illustrious name. A summary of the story may be found in Sir Wm. Jones's Works, Maurice's Hindustan, Moor's Pantheon, &c. It is also the subject of the Uttara Rāma Charitra in the Hindu Theatre, in the introduction to which an outline of the whole is given. The story is therefore, no doubt, sufficiently familiar even to English readers. It seems to be founded on historical fact; and the traditions of the south of India uniformly ascribe its civilization, the subjugation or dispersion of its forest tribes of barbarians, and the settlement of civilized Hindus, to the conquest of Laṅkā by Rāma.


The Vāyu specifies the countries or cities over which they reigned. Anguda and Citraketu, as the Vāyu terms the latter, governed countries near the Himālaya, p. 386 the capitals of which were Āṅgadi and Candravaktrā. Takṣa and Puṣkara were sovereigns of Gandhāra, residing at Takṣaśīlā and Puṣkaravatī. Subāhu and Śūrasena reigned at Mathurā; and in the latter we might be satisfied to find the Śūrasenas of Arrian, but that there is a subsequent origin, of perhaps greater authenticity, in the family of Yadu, as we shall hereafter see. ‘Kuśa built Kuśasthalī on the brow of the Vindhya, the capital of Kośalā; and Lava reigned at Śrāvastī (see p. 355. 361) in Uttara (northern) Kośalā:’ &c. The Raghu Vaasa describes Kuśa as returning from Kuśavati to Ayodhyā, after his father's death; but it seems not unlikely that the extending power of the princes of the Doab, of the lunar family, compelled Rāma's posterity to retire more to the west and south.


The Bhāgavata is the only Purāṇa that omits this name, as if the author had been induced to correct the reading in order to avoid the necessity of recognising two Nalas. See above, n. 9.


Here again we have two distinct series of princes, independently of variations of individual names. Instead of the list of the text, with which the Vāyu and Bhāgavata nearly, and the Brāhma and Hari Vaṃśa indifferently conform, we have in the Matsya, Liṅga, Kūrma, and Agni the following: Ahīnagu, Sahasrāśva, Sahasrāya or Sahasrabala, Candrāvaloka, Tārapīḍa or Tārādhīśa, Candragiri, Bhānūratha or Bhānumitra, and Śrūtāyus, with whom the list ends, except in the Liṅga, which adds Bāhula, killed by Abhimanyu: enumerating therefore from Devānīka but seven or eight princes to the great war, instead of twenty-three, as in the other series. The Raghu Vaasa gives much the same list as our text, ending with Agnivarṇa.


Bala: Bhāgavata. Nala: Hari V.


Sthala: Bhāgavata. Śala: Vāyu and Brāhma. Śila: Raghu Vaṃśa.


Omitted: Bhāgavata.


Śaṅkha: Brāhma. Khagana: Bhāg.


Dūṣitāśva: Vāyu. Adhyūṣitāśva: Brāhma. Vidhriti: Bhāgavata.


Omitted: Brāhma and Bhāgavata.


Omitted: Brāhma and Hari V.: but included with similar particulars by the Vāyu, Bhāgavata, and Raghu Vaṃśa: see also p. 283, where Kauśalya is likewise given as the synonyme of Hiraṇyagarbha, being, as the commentator observes, his Visheṣaṇam, his epithet or attribute, born p. 387 in, or king of, Kośalā. The Vāyu accordingly terms him ###, but in the Bhāgavata the epithet Kauśalya is referred by the commentator to Yājñawalkya, the pupil of Hiraṇyanābha. The author of the Raghu Vaṃśa, not understanding the meaning of the term, has converted Kauśalya into the son of Hiraṇyanābha. Raghu V. 18. 27. The Bhāgavata, like our text, calls the prince the pupil of Jaimini. The Vāyu, more correctly, ‘the pupil of the sage’s grandson.' There seems to be, however, something unusual in the account given of the relation borne by the individuals named to each other. As a pupil of Jaimini, Hiraṇyanābha is a teacher of the Sāma-veda (see p. 283), but Yājñawalkya is the teacher of the Vājasaneyi branch of the Yajush (p. 281). Neither of them is specified by Mr. Colebrooke amongst the authorities of the Pātañjala or Yoga philosophy; nor does either appear as a disciple of Jaimini in his character of founder of the Mīmānsā school. Trans. R. As. Soc. vol. I.


Arthasiddhi: Brāhma P. and Hari V.


Maruta: Brāhma P. and Hari V. These authorities omit the succeeding four names.


Sahaswat: Vāyu.


Viśvasaha: Bhāgavata.


The list closes here, as the author of the Purāṇas, Vyāsa, is cotemporary with the great war. The line of Ikṣvāku is resumed prophetically in the twenty-second chapter.

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