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 I - Marriage of Vasudeva and Devaki

The death of Kansa announced. Earth, oppressed by the Daityas, applies to the gods. They accompany her to Viṣṇu, who promises to give her relief. Kansa imprisons Vasudeva and Devakī. Viṣṇu's instructions to Yoganidrā.

MAITREYA.[1]—You have related to me a full account of all the different dynasties of kings, and of their successive transactions. I wish now to hear a more particular description, holy Ṛṣi, of the portion of Viṣṇu[2] that came down upon earth, and was born in the family of Yadu. Tell me also what actions he performed in his descent, as a part of a part of the supreme, upon the earth[3].

Parāśara said:—

I will relate to you, Maitreya, the account which you have requested; the birth of a part of a part of Viṣṇu, and the benefits which his actions conferred upon the world.

Vasudeva formerly married the daughter of Devaka, the illustrious Devakī, a maiden of celestial beauty. After their nuptials, Kansa, the increaser of the race of Bhoja, drove their car as their charioteer. As they were going along, a voice in the sky, sounding aloud and deep as thunder, addressed Kansa, and said, “Fool that you are, the eighth child of the damsel whom you are driving in the car shall take away your life[4]!” On hearing this, Kansa drew his sword, and was about to put Devakī to death; but Vasudeva interposed, saying, “Kill not Devakī, great warrior; spare her life, and I will deliver to you every child that she may bring forth.” Appeased by which promise, and relying on the character of Vasudeva, Kansa desisted from the attempt.

At that time, Earth, overburdened by her load, repaired to mount Meru to an assembly of the gods, and addressing the divinities, with Brahmā at their head, related in piteous accents all her distress. “Agni,” said Earth, “is the progenitor of gold; Sūrya, of rays of light[5]: the parent and guide of me and of all spheres is the supreme Nārāyaṇa, who is Brahmā, the lord of the lord of patriarchs; the eldest of the eldest born; one with minutes and hours; one with time; having form, though indiscrete. This assemblage of yourselves, O gods, is but a part of him. The sun, the winds, the saints, the Rudras, the Vasus, the Aswins, fire, the patriarch creators of the universe, of whom Atri is the first, all are but forms of the mighty and inscrutable Viṣṇu. The Yakṣas, Rākṣasas, Daityas, spirits of evil, serpents, and children of Danu, the singers and nymphs of heaven, are forms of the great spirit, Viṣṇu. The heavens painted with planets, constellations, and stars; fire, water, wind, and myself, and every perceptible thing; the whole universe itself—consists of Viṣṇu. The multifarious forms of that manifold being encounter

p. 494

and succeed one another, night and day, like the waves of the sea. At this present season many demons, of whom Kālanemi is the chief, have overrun, and continually harrass, the region of mortals. The great Asura Kālanemi[6], that was killed by the powerful Viṣṇu, has revived in Kansa, the son of Ugrasena, and many other mighty demons, more than I can enumerate, as Aṛṣṭa, Dhenuka, Keśin, Pralamba, Naraka, Sunda, and the fierce Bāṇa, the son of Bali[7], are born in the palaces of kings. Countless hosts of proud and powerful spirits, chiefs of the demon race, assuming celestial forms, now walk the earth; and, unable to support myself beneath the iñcumbent load, I come to you for succour. Illustrious deities, do you so act that I may be relieved from my burden, lest helpless I sink into the nethermost abyss."

When the gods had heard these complaints of Earth, Brahmā at their request explained to them how her burden might be lightened. “Celestials,” said Brahmā, “all that Earth has said is undoubtedly true. I, Mahādeva, and you all, are but Nārāyaṇa; but the impersonations of his power are for ever mutually fluctuating, and excess or diminution is indicated by the predominance of the strong, and the depression of the weak. Come therefore, let us repair to the northern coast of the milky sea, and having glorified Hari, report to him what we have heard. He, who is the spirit of all, and of whom the universe consists, constantly, for the sake of Earth, descends in a small portion of his essence to establish righteousness below.” Accordingly Brahmā, attended by the gods, went to the milky sea, and there, with minds intent upon him, praised him whose emblem is Garuḍa.

“O thou,” said Brahmā, “who art distinct from holy writ[8]; whose double nature is twofold wisdom[9], superior and inferior, and who art the essential end of both; who, alike devoid and possessed of form, art the twofold Brahma[10]; smallest of the least, and largest of the large; all, and knowing all things; that spirit which is language; that spirit which is supreme; that which is Brahma, and of which Brahma is composed! Thou art the Rich, the Yajush, the Sāman, and the Atharvan Vedas. Thou art accentuation, ritual, signification, metre, and astronomy; history, tradition, grammar, theology, logic, and law: thou who art inscrutable. Thou art the doctrine that investigates the distinctions between soul, and life, and body, and matter endowed with qualities[11]; and that doctrine is nothing else but thy nature inherent in and presiding over it[12]. Thou art imperceptible, indescribable, inconceivable; without name, or colour, or hands, or feet; pure, eternal, and infinite. Thou hearest without ears, and seest without eyes. Thou art one and multiform. Thou movest without feet; thou seizest without hands. Thou knowest all, but art not by all to be known[13]. He who beholds thee as the most subtile of atoms, not substantially existent, puts an end to ignorance; and final emancipation is the reward of that wise man whose understanding cherishes nothing other than thee in the form of supreme delight[14]. Thou art the common centre of all[15], the protector of the world; and all beings exist in thee: all that has been, or will be, thou art. Thou art the atom of atoms; thou art spirit; thou only art distinct from primeval nature[16]. Thou, as the lord of fire in four manifestations[17], givest light and fertility to Earth. Thou art the eye of all, and wearer of many shapes, and unobstructedly traversest the three regions of the universe. As fire, though one, is variously kindled, and, though unchangeable in its essence, is modified in many ways, so thou, lord, who art one omnipresent form, takest upon thee all modifications that exist. Thou art one supreme; thou art that supreme and eternal state which the wise behold with the eye of knowledge. There is nothing else but thou, O lord; nothing else has been or will be. Thou art both discrete and indiscrete, universal and individual, omniscient, all-seeing, omnipotent, possessed of all wisdom and strength and power. Thou art liable neither to diminution nor increase; thou art independent and without beginning; thou art the subjugator of all. Thou art unaffected by weariness, sloth, fear, anger, or desire. Thou art free from soil, supreme, merciful[18], uniform, undecaying, lord over all, the stay of all, the fountain of light, imperishable. To thee, uninvested by material envelopes[19], unexposed to sensible imaginings, aggregate of elemental substance[20], spirit supreme, be adoration. Thou assumest a shape, O pervader of the universe, not as the consequence of virtue or vice, nor from any mixture of the two, but for the sole object of maintaining piety in the world[21].”

The unborn, universal Hari, having heard with his mental ear these eulogiums, was pleased, and thus spake to Brahmā: “Tell me, Brahmā, what you and the gods desire: speak boldly, certain of success.” Brahmā, beholding the divine, universal form of Hari, quickly prostrated himself, and again renewed his praises. “Glory to thee, the thousand-formed, the thousand-armed, the many-visaged, many-footed; to thee, the illimitable author of creation, preservation, and destruction; most subtile of the subtile, most vast of the great: to thee, who art nature, intellect, and consciousness; and who art other spirit even than the spiritual root of those principles[22]. Do thou shew favour upon us. Behold, lord, this earth, oppressed by mighty Asuras, and shaken to her mountain basements, comes to thee, who art her invincible defender, to be relieved from her burden. Behold me, Indra, the Aswins, Varuṇa, and Yama, the Rudras, the Vasus, the suns, the winds, fire, and all other celestials, prepared to execute whatever thou shalt will that we shall do. Do thou, in whom there is no imperfection, O sovereign of the deities, give thy orders to thy servants: lo, we are ready.”

When Brahmā had ended, the supreme lord plucked off two hairs, one white and one black, and said to the gods, “These my hairs shall descend upon earth, and shall relieve her of the burden of her distress[23].

Let all the gods also, in their own portions, go down to earth, and wage war with the haughty Asuras, who are there incorporate, and who shall every one of them be destroyed. Doubt not of this: they shall perish before the withering glance of mine eyes. This my (black) hair shall be impersonated in the eighth conception of the wife of Vasudeva, Devakī, who is like a goddess; and shall slay Kansa, who is the demon Kālanemi.” Thus having spoken, Hari disappeared; and the gods bowing to him, though invisible, returned to the summit of mount Meru, from whence they descended upon earth.

The Muni Nārada informed Kansa that the supporter of the earth, Viṣṇu, would be the eighth child of Devakī; and his wrath being excited by this report, he placed both Vasudeva and Devakī in confinement. Agreeably to his promise, the former delivered to Kansa each infant as soon as it was born. It is said that these, to the number of six, were the children of the demon Hiraṇyakaśipu, who were introduced into the womb of Devakī, at the command of Viṣṇu, during the hours of Devakī's repose, by the goddess Yoganidrā[24], the great illusory energy of Viṣṇu, by whom, as utter ignorance, the whole world is beguiled. To her Viṣṇu said, “Go, Nidrā, to the nether regions, and by my command conduct successively six of their princes to be conceived of Devakī. When these shall have been put to death by Kansa, the seventh conception shall be formed of a portion of Śeṣa, who is a part of me; and this you shall transfer, before the time of birth, to Rohiṇī, another wife of Vasudeva, who resides at Gokula. The report shall run, that Devakī miscarries, through the anxiety of imprisonment, and dread of the Rājā of the Bhojas. From being extracted from his mother's womb, the child shall be known by the name of Saṅkarṣaṇa, and he shall be valiant and strong, and like the peak of the white mountain in bulk and complexion. I will myself become incarnate in the eighth conception of Devakī; and you shall immediately take a similar character as the embryo offspring of Yaśodā. In the night of the eighth lunation of the dark half of the month Nabhas, in the season of the rains, I shall be born. You shall receive birth on the ninth. Impelled and aided by my power, Vasudeva shall bear me to the bed of Yaśodā, and you to that of Devakī. Kansa shall take you, and hold you up to dash you against a stone; but you shall escape from his grasp into the sky, where the hundred-eyed Indra shall meet and do homage to you, through reverence for me, and shall bow before you, and acknowledge you as his sister. Having slain Sumbha, Nisumbha, and numerous other demons[25], you shall sanctify the earth in many places[26]. Thou art wealth, progeny, fame, patience, heaven and earth, fortitude, modesty, nutrition, dawn, and every other female (form or property). They who address thee morning and afternoon with reverence and praise, and call thee Āryā, Durgā, Vedagarbhā, Ambikā, Bhadrā, Bhadrakālī, Kṣemī, or Kṣemankarī, shall receive from my bounty whatever they desire. Propitiated with offerings of wine and flesh and various viands, thou shalt bestow upon mankind all their prayers. Through my favour all men shall ever have faith in thee. Assured of this, go, goddess, and execute my commands.”

Footnotes and references:

1.

The whole of this book is dedicated to the biography of Kṛṣṇa. Many of the Purāṇas omit this subject altogether, or only allude to it occasionally. In others it is equally prominent. The Brāhma P. gives the story exactly in the same words as our text: which has the best right to them may be questioned; but, as it is usually met with, the Brāhma P. is a very heterogeneous compilation. The Hari Vanśa has a narrative more detailed than that of the text, with additions and embellishments of its own. The Brahma Vaivartta throughout celebrates the acts of Kṛṣṇa; and one portion of it, the Kṛṣṇa Janma Khaṇḍa, especially describes his boyhood and youth. The incidents are the same in general as those in the text, but they are lost amidst interminable descriptions of Kṛṣṇa's sports with the Gopīs and with his mistress Rādhā, a person not noticed elsewhere; the whole is in a style indicative of a modern origin. The Agni P. and Padma P. (Uttara Khaṇḍa) have accounts of Kṛṣṇa, but they are mere summaries, compiled evidently from other works. The principal authority for the adventures of Kṛṣṇa is the Bhāgavata, the tenth book of which is exclusively devoted to him. It is this work which has, no doubt, mainly extended the worship of Kṛṣṇa, as its popularity is evinced by its having been translated into all the spoken languages of India professing to have a literature. The Prem-sagar, its Hindi version, is well known; but there are also translations in Mahratta, Telugu, Tamil, &c. It does not seem likely, however, that the Viṣṇu P. has copied the Bhāgavata; for although. its greater conciseness may sometimes look like abridgment, yet the descriptions are generally of a more simple and antiquated character. Here, as usual, the p. 492 Mahābhārata is no doubt the earliest extant authority; but it is not the earliest, for whilst it omits to narrate most of his personal adventures unconnected with his alliance with the Pāṇḍavas, it often alludes to them, and names repeatedly his capital, his wives, and his progeny. It also devotes a section, the Mauśala P., to the destruction of the Yādavas. The story of Kṛṣṇa the prince and hero must have been complete when the Mahābhārata was compiled. It is doubtful, however, if Kṛṣṇa the boy, and his adventures at Vrindāvan, were not subsequent inventions. There are no allusions to them in the poem, of an unsuspicious nature. The only ones that I have met with are contained in a speech by Śiśupāla, Sabhā P., vol. I. p. 360, in which he reviles Kṛṣṇa; but they may easily have been interpolated. There may be others scattered through the poem, but I have not observed them.

2.

The notices of Kṛṣṇa's origin and character in various passages of the Mahābhārata are by no means consistent, and indicate different dates at least. In an address to him by Arjuna, Vana P., vol. I. p. 436, he is said to have passed thousands of years in various holy places, engaged in arduous penances. He is frequently identified with the Ṛṣi Nārāyaṇa, or he and Arjuna are said to be Nara and Nārāyaṇa. In the Dāna-dharma he is represented as a worshipper of Śiva, and propitiating him and his wife Umā, and receiving as boons from them wives and children. As a warrior and prince he is always on the scene; but he is repeatedly called an Anśa, or portion of Viṣṇu; whilst in a great number of places he is identified with Viṣṇu or Nārāyaṇa, and is consequently ‘all things.’ This latter is his character, of course, amongst the Vaiṣṇavas, agreeably to the text of the Bhāgavata: ‘Kṛṣṇa is the lord (Viṣṇu) himself.’

3.

This is a still farther diminution of Kṛṣṇa's dignity; he is not even a part, but ‘a part of a part,’ Anśānśāvatāra: but this, the commentator maintains, is to be understood only of his form or condition as man, not of his power, as it suffered no diminution, either in its primary or secondary state, as light by suffusion suffers no decrease; and a verse of the Veda is cited to this effect: ‘Though that which is full be taken from what is full, yet the remainder is undiminished;’ ‘Kṛṣṇa is nevertheless the very supreme Brahma, though it be a mystery how the supreme should assume the form of a man.’ So the Bhāgavata in one passage predicts that the Para-puruṣa, Puruṣottama or Viṣṇu, will be born visibly in the dwelling of Vasudeva.

4.

The Bhāgavata tells the circumstance as in the text. The Hari Vanśa makes Nārada apprise Kansa of his danger. Nārada's interposition is not mentioned until afterwards by our authority. Devakī is the cousin of Kansa: see p. 436.

5.

Agni, or fire, refines gold, burns away the dross, according to the commentator. The sun is the lord of the rays of light; or, as the cause of rain and vegetation, the lord of cattle. The phrase is, ###.

6.

According to the Vāyu, Kālanemi or Kayabadha was a son of Virocana, the grandson of Hiraṇyakaśipu: his death is described in the Hari Vanśa.

7.

These appear subsequently in the narration, and are destroyed by Kṛṣṇa.

8.

Anāmnāya; not the immediate object of the Vedas, which is devotion, not abstraction; ritual or worship, not knowledge.

9.

The two kinds of knowledge are termed Parā, ‘supreme,’ and Aparā, ‘other’ or ‘subordinate;’ the first is knowledge of Para Brahma, of spirit abstractedly considered, perfect knowledge derived from abstraction; the p. 495 second is knowledge of Śabda Brahma, of spirit as described and taught in the Vedas, or their supplementary branches. The identity of the supreme with both descriptions of holy knowledge pervades the whole of the address.

10.

Para Brahma and Śabda Brahma: see the preceding note.

11.

The doctrine alluded to may be either intended generally, or in the several instances, the discussion of the spiritual soul and living soul, of body subtile and sensible, and of matter endowed with qualities, reference may be purposed to the Vedānta, Yoga, and Sāṅkhya systems.

12.

That is, as the Śabda Brahma, the supreme is identical with philosophical doctrines, being the object, the instigator, and the result.

13.

This is taken from the Vedas, the original of which is quoted and translated by Sir Win. Jones: see his Works, XIII. 368. The passage is thus cited by the commentator on our text: ‘Without hand or foot he runs, he grasps; without eyes he sees; and without ears he hears: he knoweth all that may be known, and no one knoweth him. Him they call the first great spirit.’

14.

Varenya rūpa, explained by Paramānanda mūrtti; he whose form or impersonation is supreme felicity.

15.

Literally ‘navel of all.’ p. 496 The passage is also read ‘Thou art all and the first;’ the cause or creator.

16.

Or the passage is understood, ‘Thou art one subsequently to Prakriti;’ that is, thou art Brahmā, the active will of the supreme, creating forms from rudimental matter.

17.

As the three fires enjoined by the Vedas, and the fire metaphorically of devotion; or lightnings, solar heat, fire generated artificially, and the fire of digestion or animal fire; or Viṣṇu in that character bestows beauty, vigour, power, and wealth.

18.

Prīta: one copy has Śānta, ‘calm,’ ‘undisturbed.’

19.

Beyond the separate layers or envelopes of elementary substances (see p. 19); or, according to the Vedānta notions, uninvested by those grosser sheaths or coverings, derived from food and the like, by which subtile body is enclosed.

20.

Mahāvibhūti sansthāna. Vibhūti is explained by Prapañca, sensible, material, or elementary substance, constituting body.

21.

The passage is somewhat obscurely expressed, and is differently interpreted; p. 497 it is, ‘Not from no cause, nor from cause, nor from cause and no cause.’ The term ‘no cause’ may, the commentator says, designate fixed prescribed duties, the Nityakarma; ‘cause’ may signify occasional sacrifices, the Kāmya-karma: neither of these can form any necessity for Viṣṇu's descent, as they might of a mere mortal's being born on the earth: or Kāraṇa is explained to mean ‘obtaining pleasure,’ from Ka and Āraṇa, ‘obtaining;’ obtaining happiness, or the cause of it, piety, virtue; and with the negative, Akāraṇa, the reverse, pain, the consequence of wickedness. The purport is clear enough; it is merely meant to state that Viṣṇu is not subject to the necessity which is the cause of human birth.

22.

The term Pradhāna, which is repeated in this passage, is explained in the second place to mean Pumān, ‘soul’ or ‘spirit.’

23.

The same account of the origin of Kṛṣṇa is given in the Mahābhārata, Ādi P., vol. I. p. 266. The white hair is impersonated as Balarāma; the black, as Kṛṣṇa. The commentator on our text maintains that this is not to be literally understood: ‘Viṣṇu did not intend that the two hairs should become incarnate, but he meant to signify, that, should he send them, they would be more than sufficient to destroy Kansa and his demons: or the birth of Rāma and Kṛṣṇa was a double illusion, p. 498 typified by the two hairs.’ This seems to be a refinement upon an older and somewhat undignified account of the origin of Kṛṣṇa and his brother. The commentator on the Mahābhārata argues that they are to be understood merely as the media by which Devakī and Rohīnī conceived.

24.

Yoganidrā is the sleep of devotion or abstraction, the active principle of illusion, personified, and also termed Māyā and Mahamāyā, also Avidyā or ignorance. In the Durgā Māhātmya of the Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa a she appears as Devī or Durgā, the Śakti or bride of Śiva; but in our text as Vaiṣṇavi, or the Śakti of Viṣṇu.

25.

Allusion is here made to the exploits of Durgā, as celebrated especially in the Durgā Māhātmya; and it must be posterior to the date of that or some similar composition. The passage may be an interpolation, as the Mārkaṇḍeya P. in general has the appearance of being a more recent compilation than the Viṣṇu.

26.

This refers to the Pīṭha sthānas, ‘fifty-one places,’ where, according to the Tantras, the limbs of Śatī fell, when scattered by her husband Śiva, as he bore her dead body about, and tore it to pieces, after she had put an end to her existence at Dakṣa's sacrifice. This part of the legend seems to be an addition to the original fable made by the Tantras, as it is not in the Purāṇas (see the story of Dakṣa's sacrifice). It bears some analogy to the Egyptian fable of Isis and Osiris. At the Pīṭha sthānas, however, of Jvālāmukhī, Vindhyavāsinī, Kālīghāt, and others, temples are erected to the different forms of Devī or Śatī, not to the phallic emblem of Mahādeva, which, if present, is there as an accessory and embellishment, not as a principal, and the chief object of worship is a figure of the goddess; a circumstance in which there is an essential difference between the temples of Durgā and shrines of Osiris.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: