Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Maya included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Māyā

General information.

A consort of Mahāviṣṇu, Māyā has got a very prominent place in Hindu Purāṇas. The Purāṇas state that this whole universe is unreal, illusory and if we feel it real it is because of the working of this Māyā.


How was Māyā born? Agni Purāṇa in its twentieth chapter gives a genealogy of Māyā. Hiṃsā (injury) is the wife of Adharma (evil). They got two children named Anṛta (falsehood) and Nikṛti (wickedness). From them were born Bhaya (fear), Naraka (hell) Māyā (illusion) and Vedanā (pain). Māyā in turn gave birth to Death, the destroyer of all pain produced from Hate or Misery. Mṛtyu (death) produced Vyādhi (disease), Jarā (rugosity), Śoka (sorrow), Tṛṣṇā (desire) and Krodha (anger).

Exhibition of Māyā.

Mahāviṣṇu once told Nārada thus: "There is nothing like living beings on earth. All is an illusion due to Māyā." Nārada requested Mahāviṣṇu to show him that and Viṣṇu took Nārada to the banks of a river and exhibited the wonderful working of Māyā. (For details see under Tāladhvaja I).

How Gāthi, a brahmin, saw Māyā.

In the country of Kosala there was once a brahmin named Gāthi. He went to the forests and standing there in water in a pond, immersed up to his neck, started doing penance. For eight months he did penance thus and then Mahāviṣṇu appeared before him and asked him what boon he wanted. The brahmin said he wanted to see Māyādevī. Viṣṇu granted the boon and disappeared.

Several years passed after that and nothing happened. One day the brahmin as usual went to bathe in a pond. When he took a dip in the waters he forgot all his prayers and mantras. There was a change of mind. He felt he was lying dead in his house. Relatives were sitting around weeping. His wife was in tears and was holding his legs. In an atmosphere of mourning, his own people weeping bitterly carried his body to a frightening burial ground and put it on a funeral pyre. It was burnt to ashes. He then felt himself in the womb af a Caṇḍāla woman living in a village near Hūṇamaṇḍala. The foetus developed and a black boy was born. The boy grew passing the stages of infancy, childhood and boyhood and became a man, black and stout. He started enjoying sexual life with a beautiful caṇḍāla girl. The amorous plays were done on leaf-beds, in creeper-huts, bushes and in caves and soon many evil-natured sons were born to him. Gradually his health faded and he constructed a hermitage and lived there as a hermit. His children grew up and he became old and then all on a sudden all his children and wife and other members of his family died and he was left alone. He then left the place and travelling much reached the capital city of Kīramaṇḍala. The city gates were decorated and inside people stood in groups. The road to the palace from the gate had been beautified and as he reached the palace gates he saw an elephant as big and black as mountain standing there well caparisoned. It was customary in those days to post an elephant well bedecked before the palace gates when a King died. The elephant he saw was one who had been let loose to select a new King in the place of the one who had just died. The elephant on seeing him took him by its trunk and placed him on its back. The people when they saw it shouted "The King", "The King". Drums were beaten and people shouted with joy. He was taken to the palace where he was received by young and beautiful girls. He was dressed in royal robes and he took over the administration of the state. Gradually he accepted as his wives the wives of the former King and lived there accepting the name of Gālava. He ruled the state to the satisfaction of all for eight years. One day the King went out for a stroll dressed as an ordinary man. Just outside the gate of the palace a set of Caṇḍālas were sitting singing songs to the accompaniment of a violin. As soon as they saw Gālava one of the Caṇḍālas, a red-eyed old man, got up from the group and addressing the King as "Hi, Kalañju" shouted loudly, "Friend, where had you been all this time? It is a long time since we saw you. It is our luck we saw you at least now". The King of Kīra did not like the words of the Caṇḍāla and he rebuked the old man. The queens and others standing on the terrace of the palace could see this scene. They were shocked. They regretted they had all along been serving a Caṇḍāla. The news spread like wild fire in the state. The King had to live in the palace without the help and co-operation of anybody inside or outside the palace.

People wanted to atone for the crime they had committed in installing a Caṇḍāla as their King. They made small firepits throughout the country and started committing suicide by jumping into it. The King lamented that such a mass suicide was due to him and he also made a fire-pit and jumped into it.

The heat of the fire-pit woke him from his day-dream and Gāthi found himself in the pond where he had come to bathe. "What! Who am I? What all roles did I take just now?" These puzzling thoughts filled him and he went back to the āśrama and started life as usual. One day an old friend of his came to the āśrama and after the daily routine they lay down to sleep. During their conversation Gāthī asked his friend why he had become fleshless and so lean. Then his friend narrated a story exactly similar to the experiences which Gāthi had in the country of Kīra. He added that to atone for the sin of his association with the Caṇḍālas he was conducting Prayāgasnāna (bath in Prayāga), Japa and Cāndrāyaṇamahāvrata. All those things he explained, made him lean.

Gāthi knew that the story of the guest related to him and he was eager to visit the country of Kīra. When he went to Kīra he saw everything there in the same way as in his dream. Then he realised that it was an exhibition by Viṣṇu of the working of Māyā. Gāthi then renounced everything and went into a cave and started doing penance there. After some years Mahā Viṣṇu appeared before him and blessed him. (Jñānavāsiṣṭha).

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