The Vishnu Purana
Chapter II - An account of the Shudras and women in the Kali age
It was once a matter of dispute amongst the sages, at what season the least moral merit obtained the greatest reward, and by whom it was most easily displayed. In order to terminate the discussion, they went to Veda Vyāsa to remove their doubts. They found the illustrious Muni, my son, half immersed in the water of the Ganges; and awaiting the close of his ablutions, the sages remained on the banks of the sacred stream, under shelter of a grove of trees. As my son plunged down into the water, and again rose up from it, the Munis heard him exclaim, “Excellent, excellent, is the Kali age!” Again he dived, and again rising, said in their hearing, “Well done, well done Śūdra; thou art happy!” Again he sank down, and as he once more emerged they heard him say, “Well done, well done, women; they are happy! who are more fortunate than they?” After this, my son finished his bathing, and the sages met him as he approached to welcome them. After he had given them seats, and they had proffered their respects, the son of Satyavatī said to them, “On what account have you come to me?” They replied, “We came to you to consult you on a subject on which we entertain some doubt; but that may be at present suspended: explain to us something else. We heard you say, ‘Excellent is the Kali age! Well done, Śūdra! Well done, women!’ Now we are desirous to know why this was said, why you called them repeatedly, happy. Tell us the meaning of it, if it be not a mystery. We will then propose to you the question that occupies our thoughts.”
Being thus addressed by the Munis, Vyāsa smiled, and said to them, “Hear, excellent sages, why I uttered the words ‘Well done, well done.’ The fruit of penance, of continence, of silent prayer, and the like, practised in the Krita age for ten years, in the Treta for one year, in the Dvāpara for a month, is obtained in the Kali age in a day and night: therefore did I exclaim, ‘Excellent, excellent, is the Kali age!’ That reward which a man obtains in the Krita by abstract meditation, in the Treta by sacrifice, in the Dvāpara by adoration, he receives in the Kali by merely reciting the name of Keśava. In the Kali age a man displays the most exalted virtue by very little exertion; therefore, pious sages, who know what virtue is, I was pleased with the Kali age. Formerly the Vedas were to be acquired by the twice-born through the diligent observance of self-denial; and it was their duty to celebrate sacrifices conformably to the ritual. Then idle prayers, idle feasts, and fruitless ceremonies, were practised but to mislead the twice-born; for although observed by them devoutly, yet, in consequence of some irregularity in their celebration, sin was iñcurred in all their works, and what they ate, or what they drank, did not effect the fulfilment of their desires. In all their objects the twice-born enjoyed no independence, and they attained their respective spheres only with exceeding pain. The Śūdra, on the contrary, more fortunate than they, reaches his assigned station by rendering them service, and performing merely the sacrifice of preparing food, in which no rules determine what may or may not be eaten, what may or may not be drunk. Therefore, most excellent sages, is the Śūdra fortunate.
”Riches are accumulated by men in modes not incompatible with their peculiar duties, and they are then to be bestowed upon the worthy, and expended in constant sacrifice. There is great trouble in their acquisition; great care in their preservation; great distress from the want of them; and great grief for their loss. Thus, eminent Brahmans, through these and other sources of anxiety, men attain their allotted spheres of Prajāpati and the rest only by exceeding labour and suffering. This is not the case with women: a woman has only to honour her husband, in act, thought, and speech, to reach the same region to which he is elevated; and she thus accomplishes her object without any great exertion. This was the purport of my exclamation, ‘Well done!’ the third time. I have thus related to you what you asked. Now demand the question you came to put to me, in any way you please, and I will make you a distinct reply."
The Munis then said to Vyāsa, “The question we intended to have asked you has been already answered by you in your reply to our subsequent inquiry.” On hearing which, Kṛṣṇa Dwaipāyana laughed, and said to the holy persons who had come to see him, whose eyes were wide open with astonishment, “I perceived, with the eye of divine knowledge, the question you intended to ask, and in allusion to it I uttered the expressions, ‘Well done, well done.’ In truth, in the Kali age duty is discharged with very little trouble by mortals, whose faults are all washed away by the water of their individual merits; by Śūdras, through diligent attendance only upon the twice-born; and by women, through the slight effort of obedience to their husbands. Therefore, Brahmans, did I thrice express my admiration of their happiness; for in the Krita and other ages great were the toils of the regenerate to perform their duty. I waited not for your inquiry, but replied at once to the question you purposed to ask. Now, ye who know what virtue is, what else do you wish me to tell you?”
The Munis then saluted and praised Vyāsa, and, being freed by him from uncertainty, departed as they came. To you also, excellent Maitreya, have I imparted this secret, this one great virtue of the otherwise vicious Kali age. The dissolution of the world, and the aggregation of the elements, I will now describe to you.
Footnotes and references:
The illustration of the efficacy of devotion to Viṣṇu given in this chapter is peculiar to this Purāṇa, but the doctrine is common to it and the Bhāgavata. It is repeatedly iñculcated in that work. The parallel passage in the twelfth book is the following. “Puruṣottama, abiding in the hearts of men, takes away all the sins of the Kali age, produced by place or property. Bhagavān, abiding in the heart, and heard, repeated, read of, worshipped, or honoured, dissipates the ills of men for ten thousand births. As fire, entering into the substance of gold, purifies it from the alloy with which it is debased in the mine, so Viṣṇu, united with the devotee, is the refiner from all that is evil. By learning, penance, suppression of breath, friendship, pilgrimage, ablution, mortification, gifts, prayer, the soul attains not that exceeding purity which it derives from the presence of Viṣṇu. Therefore, with all your soul, O king, hold Keśava ever present in your heart. Let one about to die be most careful in this; for so he goes to supreme felicity. Let the name of the supreme god, Viṣṇu, be repeated diligently by all in their last moments; for he who desires liberation shall attain it by the frequent repetition of the name of Kṛṣṇa. Final felicity is derived in the Krita age from holy study; in the Treta, from religious rites. In the Dvāpara it is attained by pious services; but in the Kali age it is secured by repeating the name of Hari.” Similar doctrines are taught in the Giṭa, and other Vaiṣṇava works. See As. Res. vol. XVI. p. 116.