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 - Dynasty of the Moon, An account of Tara, origin of three Fires

Kings of the lunar dynasty. Origin of Soma, or the moon: he carries off Tārā, the wife of Vrihaspati: war between the gods and Asuras in consequence: appeased by Brahmā. Birth of Budha: married to Ilā, daughter of Vaivaswata. Legend of his son Pururavas, and the nymph Urvaśī: the former institutes offerings with fire: ascends to the sphere of the Gandharbas.

Maitreya said:—

You have given me, reverend preceptor, an account of the kings of the dynasty of the sun: I am now desirous to hear a description of the princes who trace their lineage from the moon, and whose race is still celebrated for glorious deeds. Thou art able to relate it to me, Brahman, if thou wilt so favour me.

Parāśara said:—

You shall hear from me, Maitreya, an account of the illustrious family of the moon, which has produced many celebrated rulers of the earth; a race adorned by the regal qualities of strength, valour, magnificence, prudence, and activity; and enumerating amongst its monarchs Nahuṣa, Yayāti, Kārtavīryārjuna, and others equally renowned. That race will I describe to you: do you attend.

Atri was the son of Brahmā, the creator of the universe, who sprang from the lotus that grew from the navel of Nārāyaṇa. The son of Atri was Soma[1] (the moon), whom Brahmā installed as the sovereign of plants, of Brahmans, and of the stars. Soma celebrated the Rājasūya sacrifice, and from the glory thence acquired, and the extensive dominion with which he had been invested, he became arrogant and licentious, and carried off Tārā, the wife of Vrihaspati, the preceptor of the gods. In vain Vrihaspati sought to recover his bride; in vain Brahmā commanded, and the holy sages remonstrated; Soma refused to relinquish her. Uśanas, out of enmity to Vrihaspati, took part with Soma. Rudra, who had studied under Aṅgiras, the father of Vrihaspati, befriended his fellow-student. In consequence of Uśanas, their preceptor, joining Soma, Jambha, Kujambha, and all the Daityas, Dānavas, and other foes of the gods, came also to his assistance; whilst Indra and all the gods were the allies of Vrihaspati.

Then there ensued a fierce contest, which, being on account of Tārakā (or Tārā), was termed the Tārakāmaya or Tārakā war. In this the gods, led by Rudra, hurled their missiles on the enemy; and the Daityas with equal determination assailed the gods. Earth, shaken to her centre by the struggle between such foes, had recourse to Brahmā for protection; on which he interposed, and commanding Uśanas with the demons and Rudra with the deities to desist from strife, compelled Soma to restore Tārā to her husband. Finding that she was pregnant, Vrihaspati desired her no longer to retain her burden; and in obedience to his orders she was delivered of a son, whom she deposited in a clump of long Muñja grass. The child, from the moment of its birth, was endued with a splendour that dimmed the radiance of every other divinity, and both Vrihaspati and Soma, fascinated by his beauty, claimed him as their child. The gods, in order to settle the dispute, appealed to Tārā; but she was ashamed, and would make no answer. As she still continued mute to their repeated applications, the child became incensed, and was about to curse her, saying, “Unless, vile woman, you immediately declare who is my father, I will sentence you to such a fate as shall deter every female in future from hesitating to speak the truth.” On this, Brahmā again interfered, and pacified the child; and then, addressing Tārā, said, “Tell me, daughter, is this the child of Vrihaspati, or of Soma?” “Of Soma,” said Tārā, blushing. As soon as she had spoken, the lord of the constellations, his countenance bright, and expanding with rapture, embraced his son, and said, “Well done, my boy; verily thou art wise:” and hence his name was Budha[2].

It has already been related how Budha begot Purūravas by Ilā. Purūravas[3] was a prince renowned for liberality, devotion, magnificence, and love of truth, and for personal beauty. Urvaśī having iñcurred the imprecation of Mitra and Varuṇa, determined to take up her abode in the world of mortals; and descending accordingly, beheld Purūravas. As soon as she saw him she forgot all reserve, and disregarding the delights of Swarga, became deeply enamoured of the prince. Beholding her infinitely superior to all other females in grace, elegance, symmetry, delicacy, and beauty, Pururavas was equally fascinated by Urvaśī: both were inspired by similar sentiments, and mutually feeling that each was every thing to the other, thought no more of any other object. Confiding in his merits, Purūravas addressed the nymph, and said, “Fair creature, I love you; have compassion on me, and return my affection.” Urvaśī, half averting her face through modesty, replied, “I will do so, if you will observe the conditions I have to propose.” “What are they?” inquired the prince; “declare them.” “I have two rams,” said the nymph, “which I love as children; they must be kept near my bedside, and never suffered to be carried away: you must also take care never to he seen by me undressed; and clarified butter alone must be my food.” To these terms the king readily gave assent.

After this, Purūravas and Urvaśī dwelt together in Alakā, sporting amidst the groves and lotus-crowned lakes of Caitraratha, and the other forests there situated, for sixty-one thousand years[4]. The love of Purūravas for his bride increased every day of its duration; and the affection of Urvaśī augmenting equally in fervour, she never called to recollection residence amongst the immortals. Not so with the attendant spirits at the court of Indra; and nymphs, genii, and quiristers, found heaven itself but dull whilst Urvaśī was away. Knowing the agreement that Urvaśī had made with the king, Viśvavasu was appointed by the Gandharbas to effect its violation; and he, coming by night to the chamber where they slept, carried off one of the rams. Urvaśī was awakened by its cries, and exclaimed, Ah me! who has stolen one of my children? Had I a husband, this would not have happened! To whom shall I apply for aid?" The Rājā overheard her lamentation, but recollecting that he was undressed, and that Urvaśī might see him in that state, did not move from the couch. Then the Gandharbas came and stole the other ram; and Urvaśī, hearing it bleat, cried out that a woman had no protector who was the bride of a prince so dastardly as to submit to this outrage. This incensed Purūravas highly, and trusting that the nymph would not see his person, as it was dark, he rose, and took his sword, and pursued the robbers, calling upon them to stop, and receive their punishment. At that moment the Gandharbas caused a flash of brilliant lightning to play upon the chamber, and Urvaśī beheld the king undressed: the compact was violated, and the nymph immediately disappeared. The Gandharbas, abandoning the rams, departed to the region of the gods.

Having recovered the animals, the king returned delighted to his couch, but there he beheld no Urvaśī; and not finding her any where, he wandered naked over the world, like one insane. At length coming to Kurukṣetra, he saw Urvaśī sporting with four other nymphs of heaven in a lake beautified with lotuses, and he ran to her, and called her his wife, and wildly implored her to return. “Mighty monarch,” said the nymph, “refrain from this extravagance. I am now pregnant: depart at present, and come hither again at the end of a year, when I will deliver to you a son, and remain with you for one night.” Purūravas, thus comforted, returned to his capital. Urvaśī said to her companions, “This prince is a most excellent mortal: I lived with him long and affectionately united.” “It was well done of you,” they replied; “he is indeed of comely appearance, and one with whom we could live happily for ever.”

When the year had expired, Urvaśī and the monarch met at Kurukṣetra, and she consigned to him his first-born Āyus; and these annual interviews were repeated, until she had borne to him five sons. She then said to Purūravas, “Through regard for me, all the Gandharbas have expressed their joint purpose to bestow upon my lord their benediction: let him therefore demand a boon.” The Rājā replied, “My enemies are all destroyed, my faculties are all entire; I have friends and kindred, armies and treasures: there is nothing which I may not obtain except living in the same region with my Urvaśī. My only desire therefore is, to pass my life with her.” When he had thus spoken, the Gandharbas brought to Purūravas a vessel with fire, and said to him, “Take this fire, and, according to the precepts of the Vedas, divide it into three fires; then fixing your mind upon the idea of living with Urvaśī, offer oblations, and you shall assuredly obtain your wishes.” The Rājā took the brasier, and departed, and came to a forest. Then he began to reflect that he had committed a great folly in bringing away the vessel of fire instead of his bride; and leaving the vessel in the wood, he went disconsolate to his palace. In the middle of the night he awoke, and considered that the Gandharbas had given him the brasier to enable him to obtain the felicity of living with Urvaśī, and that it was absurd in him to have left it by the way. Resolving therefore to recover it, he rose, and went to the place where he had deposited the vessel; but it was gone. In its stead he saw a young Aśvattha tree growing out of a Śami plant, and he reasoned with himself, and said, “I left in this spot a vessel of fire, and now behold a young Aśvattha tree growing out of a Śami plant. Verily I will take these types of fire to my capital, and there, having engendered fire by their attrition, I will worship it.” Having thus determined, he took the plants to his city, and prepared their wood for attrition, with pieces of as many inches long as there are syllables in the Gayatrī: he recited that holy verse, and rubbed together sticks of as many inches as he recited syllables in the Gayatrī[5]. Having thence elicited fire, he made it threefold, according to the injunctions of the Vedas, and offered oblations with it, proposing as the end of the ceremony reunion with Urvaśī. In this way, celebrating many sacrifices agreeably to the form in which offerings are presented with fire, Purūravas obtained a seat in the sphere of the Gandharbas, and was no more separated from his beloved. Thus fire, that was at first but one, was made threefold in the present Manwantara by the son of Ilā[6].

Footnotes and references:


The Vāyu says the essence of Soma (Somatwa) issued from the eyes of Atri, and impregnated the ten quarters. The Bhāgavata says merely that Soma was born from the eyes of Atri. The Brāhma P. and Hari V. give a grosser name to the effusion.


'He who knows.' Much erroneous speculation has originated in confounding this Budha, the son of Soma, and regent of the planet Mercury, ‘he who knows,’ the intelligent, with Buddha, any deified mortal, or ‘he by whom truth is known;’ or, as individually applicable, Gautama or Śākya, son of the Raja Śuddhodana, by p. 394 whom the Buddhists themselves aver their doctrines were first promulgated. The two characters have nothing in common, and the names are identical only when one or other is misspelt.


The story of Purūravas is told much in the same strain as follows, though with some variations, and in greater or less detail, in the Vāyu, Matsya, Vāmana, Padma, and Bhāgavata Purāṇas. It is also referred to in the Mahābhārata, vol. I. p. 113. It is likewise the subject of the Vikrama and Urvaśī of Kālīdāsa, in which drama the incidents offensive to good taste are not noticed. See Hindu Theatre, vol. I. p. 587. The Matsya Purāṇa, besides this story, which is translated in the introduction to the drama, has in another part, c. 94, an account of a Purūravas, who, in the Cākṣuṣa Manwantara, was king of Maḍra, and who by the worship of Viṣṇu obtained a residence with the Gandharbas.


One copy has sixty-one years; the Brāhma P. and Hari V. have fifty-nine: one period is as likely as the other.


It does not appear why this passage is repeated. The length of the sticks, conformably to the number of syllables in the usual form of the Gayatrī, would be twenty-four inches. The Bhāgavata attaches to the operation a piece of mysticism of a Tāntrika origin: Purūravas, whilst performing the attrition, mentally identifies himself and Urvaśī with the two sticks, and repeats the Mantra, ###.


The division of one fire into three is ascribed to Purūravas by the Mahābhārata and the rest. The commentator on the former specifies them as the Gārhapatya, Dakṣiṇa, and Āhavanīya, which Sir Wm. Jones, Manu, II. 231, renders nuptial, ceremonial, and sacrificial fires; or rather, 1. household, that which is perpetually maintained by a householder; 2. a fire for sacrifices, placed to the south of the rest; and 3. a consecrated fire for oblations; forming the Tretāgni, or triad of sacred fires, in opposition to the Laukika, or merely temporal ones. To Purūravas it would appear the triple arrangement was owing; but there are some other curious traditions regarding him, which indicate his being the author of some important innovations in the Hindu ritual. The Bhāgavata says, that before his time there was but one Veda, one caste, one fire, and one god, Nārāyaṇa; and that, in the beginning of the Treta age, Purūravas made them all ‘three:’ that is, according to the commentator, the ritual was then instituted: The Matsya P. has an account of this prince's going to the orbit of the sun and moon at every conjunction, when oblations to progenitors are to be offered, as if obsequial rites had originated with Purūravas. The Mahābhārata states some still more remarkable particulars. ‘The glorious Purūravas, endowed, although a mortal, with the properties of a deity, governing the thirteen islands of the ocean, engaged in hostilities with the Brahmans in the pride of his strength, and seized their jewels, as they exclaimed against his oppression. Sanatkumāra came from the sphere of Brahmā to teach him the rules of duty, but Purūravas did not accept his instructions, and the king, deprived of understanding by the pride of his power, and actuated by avarice, was therefore ever accursed by the offended great sages, and was destroyed.’

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: