Historical Elements in the Matsya Purana

by Chaitali Kadia | 2021 | 91,183 words

This essay studies the historical elements of the Matsya-purana: one of the typical eighteen Mahapuranas: Sanskrit texts that have recorded the ancient Indian cultural heritage, philosophy, religion, geography, etc. This Matsyapurana was originally written in 20,000 metrical verses and its content includes scientific topics such as architecture, de...

Chapter I: An Introduction of the Purāṇas

The Purāṇas are the most complete and authoritative exposition of Vedic knowledge. To know about our Indian culture, it is important to know about Purāṇa. In fact, Purāṇa is the bearer and carrier of culture. Almost all the rules of today‘s society are influenced by the Purāṇa. Actually the Purāṇa is a collection of important narrative scriptures of the ancient Hindu, Buddhist and Jains. The Purāṇa discuss the history of the universe from creation to cataclysm, the genealogy of kings, warriors, sages and sub-gods, and Hindu cosmology, philosophy and geography. In the Purāṇas, a particular deity is usually predominant and shows the predominance of religious and philosophical thought. These texts are mainly in the form of anecdotes, which relate to more than one person. According to many scholars, the author of the Mahābhārata, Vyāsdeva is the complier of the Purāṇas. The most of ancient texts of the Purāṇas are connected with the contemporary Gupta Empire. Most of its elements relate to this period and its later centuries, according to historical or other sources. The Purāṇas were written in different parts of India. Some general ideas are noticed in the overall text of the Purāṇas. But it is difficult to explore the effect of one Purāṇas on another. So these are generally considered to be contemporary.

The composition date of the written text is not the actual composition date of the Purāṇa, because it can be said without a doubt that these stories have been spread orally for over a millennium. And later their shape and form were seen to change from the middle ages to the modern age.

Research on Purāṇa began when the All India Kashiraj Trust was formed under the patronage and supervision of Bibhuti Narayan Singh, Maharaj of Kashi. From this organization a critical edition of the Purāṇas and a magazine called “Purāṇam” had been published.

An ancient reference to the Purāṇas is found in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad, written in 500 BC (7/1/2). The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad calls the Purāṇa as the “Pañcama Veda” (2/4/10, 4/1/2, 4/5/11). The Atharvaveda also mentions the word (11/7/14). 4

Purāṇas are not just religious texts. Apart from the deities and religious texts. Purāṇas, various philosophical thoughts have been described. Also a lot of information about the history, geography, economy and polities of ancient India is available from the Purāṇas. The ancient Indian social system and its customs are also a unique subject of the Purāṇas. Some of the Purāṇas contain descriptions of astrology, medicine, martial arts and weapons. Indian as well as foreign literature is also influenced by Purāṇa. Kālidās’s “Abhijñāna-śākuntalam” is influenced by the subject of the Padma-Purāṇa of the “Raghuvaṃśam” is written on the subject of the Brahmapurāna, Kālikā Purāṇa, Śiva Purāṇa and Skanda Purāṇa. The influence of Purāṇas can be seen in the books of Khemiśvar‘s “Candakauśika” and Joydeva‘s “Gītagovindam”. The Purāṇas are the significant creation of the Sanskrit literature. The contribution and influence of Purāṇas at every level of Indian society is undeniable. Directly or indirectly we depend on the Purāṇas.

In this work I have choose the Matsya Purāṇa and tried to specify what historical elements are in that Purāṇa. I have been divided the work into seven chapters to make it beautiful and easy. The chapters deal with the basic details of the Purāṇas, the relationship between the Purāṇas and the history, what is the historical element and its features, and the description of the historical elements of the Matsya Purāṇa.

The Veda is the main source of Indian culture as it reflects every time and everywhere in the Indian Culture entirely. The Veda helps us to choose the right way that should be done or should not be done. The Veda is auspicious which blesses us in all the step of our life. The Vedic thoughts are reflected in the Purāṇas. We don‘t realize the meaning of the Śruti without the Purāṇas. No one is considered as a learned without leaning the Purāṇas as no one knows the Sanskrit language without learning the Vaiyākaraṇa-Kaumudī.

The important thing is to know the etymology of word Purāṇa—“parati argre gacchatīti purā |”. The word Purāṇa is formed by the word “Pura”. Pāṇini, Yāska even Purāṇa itself have represented the etymology of word “Purāṇa”. Pāṇini described Purāṇa as “po bhavam” that means what happened in ancient period. The word Purāṇa is issued by the law of Pāṇini named “sāyaṃciraṃprahneprato'vyaryabhyaṣṭyuṭ yulau tuṭ ca .”

According to Maharṣi Yaska the Purāṇa means “purā navaṃ bhavati –(nirukta 3 /9 /34 )”. On the other side the etymology of Purāṇa is “purā + +ḍa ”. As per the Vāyu Purāṇa the meaning of Purāṇa is “purā anati ” which lived in the ancient period1. According to the Padma Purāṇa the meaning of word Purāṇa is “purā paramparāṃ vaṣṭi purāṇaṃ tena tata , smṛtam |. Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa describes the meaning of world Purāṇa as “purā etat abhūt |” According to the Matsya Purāṇa the word Purāṇa means “purāṇasya kalpasya purāṇāni vidurvudhā |Halāyudha has described Purāṇa as “purā pūrvasminakāle bhavaḥ |” In Sanskrit literature Purāṇa means ancient. Purāṇa or Purāvarta is a history after Vedic period.

The Purāṇa describes itself as ancient. From the Vedic Period the scholars have mentioned the Purāṇa in their treatises. Even Veda, itself has indicated the description of Purāṇa.

There are two models of Purāṇa–one is a subject of many ancient studies and the other as a literature. To get the ancient depiction of the Purāṇa we must search the many Vedic literature, like Brāhmana, Saṃhitā, Upaniṣad etc. we get many usages of word Purāṇa in the many mantras of Ṛgveda. The word “Purāṇa” is mentioned as a meaning of ancient in the Ṛg-mantra 3/58/6, 10/130/6 and the other side Purāṇa is used as an adjective form of word “Gāthā”.

In the Atharvaveda the word “Purāṇa” is mentioned with the word “Nārāsangsī”, “Gāthā” and “Itihāsa”–

sa vṛhatīṃ diśamanuṣyacalat || 10 || 
tamitihāsaśca purāṇaṃ ca gāthāśca
nārāśasīścānuvyacalan || 11 ||
itihāsasya ca sa vai purāṇasya ca gāthānāṃ ca |
nāraśaṃsīnāṃ ca priyaṃ dhāma bhavati
, ya evaṃ veda || 12 |
atharva , 25 , 1 , 6

The Atharvaveda says that the Purāṇa origin with other Vedas

ṛcaḥ sāmāni chandāṃsi purāṇaṃ yajuṣā saha |
ucchiṣṭājjajñire sarve divi devā diviśritāḥ ||
atharvaveda 22 /3 /4

The antiquity of Purāṇa is also proved by the Brāhmaṇa literature. There are many usages of word Purāṇa in the Śatapatha and Gopatha Brāhmaṇa:

evamime sarvevedā nirmitāḥ sakalpāḥ sarahasyāḥ sabrāhmaṇāḥ sopaniṣatkāḥ setihāsāḥ sānvākhyātāḥ sapurāṇāḥ |”

Āranyaka & Upaniṣad are the last part of Brāhmaṇa. We also get the usages of Purāṇa in the Āranyaka and Upaniṣada—

brahmayajña prakaraṇe-yad brāhmaṇānītihāsān purāṇani kalpāna gāthā nārāśaṃsī ....”

ṛgvedaṃ bhagabo Sdhyemi yajurvedaṃ sāmavedamātharvāṇaṃ caturthamitihāsapurāṇaṃ pañcamaṃ vedam |

Not only Brāhmaṇa, Āranyaka and Upaniṣad but also the Sūtragrantha prove the presence of Purāṇa. By study the Purāṇas what kind of and how much virtue we can earn, all this knowledge is written in the Sūtra-grantha. There are many descriptions about reading Purāṇa in the mantra (3/23/34) of Āpastambadharmasūtra. The Mahābhārata also accepts the Purāṇas.

The application of Purāṇa is excess in the ādi and anuśāsana part of the Mahābhārata.—

purāṇaṃ mānave dharmaḥ sāṅgovedaścikatsitam |
ājñāsiddhāni catvāri
, na hantavyāni hetubhiḥ || 
anuśāsanaparva |

pūrāṇe ho divyā ādivaṃśāśca dhīmatām |
kathyante ye purāsmābhiḥ śrutapūrvāḥ pitustava ||
(5 /2 )

There are plenty of example of Viṣṇu Purāṇa and Vāyu Purāṇa in the Mahābhārata.

Like the Mahābhārata appliance of Purāṇa is very clear in the Rāmāyaṇa also.

ityuktvā turahaḥ sūto rājānamidamabravīt |
śrūyatāṃ yat purāvṛttaṃ purāṇeṣu yathāśrutam ||

bālakāṇḍa |

There are also many usages of Purāṇa in the “smṛtigrantha ”.

According to the “yājñavalkya-smṛti-śāstra”—

tatrāṣṭaśītisāhasrā munayo gṛhamedhinaḥ |
punarāvartino bījabhūtā dharma
-pravartakāḥ ||”

The Sanskrit grammar also described about the Purāṇa.

According to the Mahābhāṣya

vākovākyamitihāsaḥ purāṇaṃ
vaidyakamityetāvacchaṣdasya prayogaviṣayaḥ |

Kautilya, the great politician in the ancient period also adopted the subject of Purāṇa for his ageless composition, the “Arthaśāstra”.

That is why we can see the use of Purāṇa in the “Arthaśāstra”—

mukhairavagṛhītaṃ vā rājānaṃ tat priyāśritaḥ |
itivṛttapurāṇābhyāṃ vodhayedarthaśāstravin ||

There are also mentioned the word “Purāṇa” in the Gautamdharmasūtra, and Vyāsasmṛti—

sa eva bahuśruto bhavati loka -veda -vedāṅgavit vākovākyetihāsapurāṇakuśala | ”10

The philosopher Śankarācārya has indicated the Purāṇa and its theory in the many places of his Sārīrakabhāṣya.

He has used the word Smṛti in the place of word Purāṇa.

purāṇe cātītānāgatānāṃ kalpanāṃ ca parimāṇamastīti sthapitam |

Not only philosophy but also the Nītiśāstra, Dharmaśāstra and many ancient poets have used the appliance of Purāṇa.

The third quarter of the Dvāpra age is actual age of the Purāṇa according to the literary evidences of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. We used the divine sources of origin of the Purāṇa to draw conclusion in this chapter. We made this point in the support of various views of various śāstras like Śrimad-Bhāgavatam, written by Bhakti Vedanta Svāmi Prabhu Pāda, Matsya Purāṇa, Visnu Purāṇa, Devi Bhāgavata Purāṇa, Kūrma Purāṇa, Vayu Purāṇa, Padma Purāṇa, Arthaśāstra etc. All the Śāstra gave the conclusion that the Vyāsadeva is the author of the eighteen Mahā-Purāṇas.

In the old treatise the relation between the Purāṇa and “Itihāsa” is very deep that these two issues have been mentioned together as named Itihāsa-Purāṇa. Though Itihāsa is a different subject yet there is a wrong thought, that the Purāṇa is 8

Itihāsa. After words to overcome the complexity of the relationship between the Purāṇa and Itihāsa they are known as the two separate subjects. In the Chāndogya Upanisad Śankarācharya has cleared the difference between the Purāṇa and Itihāsa. Śankarācharya says that the Purāṇa and Itihāsa both are mentioned in the Veda.

urvaśī hāpsarā , pururavasamaiṃḍa cakame ” etc. the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (11/5/1/1) is considered as Itihāsa but “asadvā idamagra āsīt ” etc. the description of creation is considered as the Purāṇa—

itihāsa ityurvaśīpuruvasoḥ saṃvādādiḥurvaśī hāpsarā
ityadi brāhmaṇameva | purāṇamasadvā idamagra āsīdityadi”  ||
śāṅkarabhāṣya .

In a brief sense the Purāṇas describes not only the “SargapratiSargaVaṃśa–manvantarāni–vaṃśānucharitam” but also charitypilgrimage–vow and the incarnations (avatāra). But the surface of history is different from the Purāṇa. Itihāsa narrates the ancient story. So, history belongs also a vast surface. Itihāsa is not only a narrator of the ancient incident but also Itihāsa learns us about the ancient social, economic, politics, religious and culture. The Atharvaveda has accepted the word “Purāṇa” at first to create some scripture in a mantra (15 /6 /10 ). There are also available the usages separately of word “Purāṇa” and “Itihāsa” in some ancient Vedic literature. Where somebody consider “Itihāsa” as a part of the “Purāṇa” , but somebody think that Purāṇa is a part of Itihāsa. Kautilya described in his “Arthaśāstra” that the Itihāsa is a sum of “Purāṇa-Itibṛtta-Ākhyāiykā-Udāharan-Dharmaśāstra-Arthaśāstra …….…”

Characteristics is a main part of a subject that decide the importance of the subject. Characteristics say the inner subject of a topic. Exactly the same we know the subject matter of Purāṇa by its characteristics in brief. There are mentioned about the characteristics almost in all Purāṇas. Somewhere are mentioned five and somewhere are ten characteristics of Purāṇa.

According to the Viṣṇu Purāṇa there are five characteristics of Purāṇa, named “Pañcalakṣaṇa”.

sargaśca pratisargaśca vaṃśa manvantarāni ca
vaṃśānucaritaṃ caiva purāṇaṃ pañcalakṣaṇam ||

The relation between Purāṇa and Pañcalakṣaṇa is so deep that this word “Pañcalakṣaṇa” is applied with the Purāṇa in the “Amarkoṣa” without any explanation and hesitation. The Pañcalakṣaṇa are–Sarga, PratiSarga, Vaṃśa, Manvantara, Vaṃśānucarita. ‘Sarga‘means the creation of the world. “Prati Sarga” means the disaster of the world. It is the opposite meaning of “Sarga”. The past, present and the future lineages of those kings which is created by the Lord Brahma, are called “Vaṃśa”. Not only king but also the sage‘s blood include in this Vaṃśa. Manu, God, son of Manu, Indra, Saptarṣi and the avataras of God, these period of six featured is called “Manvantara”. “Vaṃśānucarita [vaṃśānucaritam]” means the description of dynasties and their origins.

On the other hand, there are ten characteristics of Purāṇa in the Śrīmad Bhāgavata and the Brahmavaivarta Purāṇa. The ten characteristics of two sides in the Śrīmad Bhāgavata by only in word not in meaning.

According to the 12th Skanda of the Bhāgavata the ten characteristics are—

sargaścātha visargaśca vṛtti rakṣāntarāṇi ca |
vaṃśo vaṃśānucaritaṃ saṃstha heturapāśrayaḥ ||

Sarga means the creation of the universe. Visarga means the creation of life. For living life uses which material like rice, wheat etc. they are called as Vṛtti. Description of incarnations of Paramapuruṣa is called Rakṣā. Antarāṇi is the same subject of aforesaid Manvantarāṇi which explain the time of six characters that is Manu, Devatā, Son of Manu, Indra, Saptarṣi and the Incarnation of Lord Viṣṇu. Vaṃśa is also the same thing which is said at first in the Pañcalakṣaṇa. Vaṃśānucaritam is also the same subject as Vaṃśānucaritam in the five characteristics. Saṃsthā means the opposite subject of Sarga, theory of creation. This is also the same subject of PratiSarga. Hetu means the cause of life and Apāśraya is the highest definition of Brahma.

On the other side there are also mentioned about the ten characteristics of Purāṇa in the last ten chapters of Śrīmadbhāgavata’s second Skanda. The ten characteristics of this second Skanda is not different from the ten of the previous 12th Skanda. Rather they are synonymous. Differences are only verbal. The characteristics are—

atra sargo visargaśca sthanaṃ poṣaṇamūtayaḥ |
manvantareśānukathā nirodho muktirāśrayaḥ || 

“Sarga”, “Visarga” is the same thing as aforesaid “Sarga”, “Visarga”. “Sthāna [sthānam]” is the conquest of Lord Vaikuṇṭha. “Poṣaṇa [poṣaṇam]” means the grace or kindness of Lord Viṣṇu. “Ūti” means desire for work. “Manvantara” is mentioned as a specific form of time. There are many explanations about the Purāṇic time in this part. Īśānukathā means the story about the God and his avatāras. “Nirodha” means disaster. “Nirodha” and “Pratisarga” is the same issue. “Mukti” means the liberty from all earthen sorrow and Āśraya means Paramabrahma, the all mighty God. After death all the soul takes shelter in the Paramabrahma.

Not only Śrimad Bhāgavata but also Brahmavaivarta Purāṇa has described about the ten characteristics. From these all characteristics we can know about the total figure of the Purāṇa.

Before the discussion about the all Purāṇas, it is essential to classify the Purāṇas. There are so many opinions about classification of Purāṇas.

1. Some scholars have classified the Purāṇa in two parts on basis of their size–Mahā Purāṇas and Upa-Purāṇas.

2. Some people have classified the Purāṇas according to the time. There are two parts also–one is “prācīna ” and the another is “prācīnottara ” . The “prācīna ” Purāṇas are “vāyu , brahmāṇḍa , matsya , mārkaṇḍeya , viṣṇu ” Purāṇas. And the rest are “prācīnottara purāṇa ” .

3. According to the God there are three types of classification of Purāṇas they are–“sātvika , rājasa , tāmasa ” .

sātvika ” Purāṇas are–“viṣṇu , nāradīya , śrīmadbhāgavatam , garuḍa , padma , varāha ” etc. the six Purāṇas.

rājasa ” Purāṇas are–“brahmāṇḍa , brahmarvevartam , mārkaṇḍeya , bhaviṣya , vāmana , brahma ” etc.

tāmasa ” Purāṇas are -matsya , kurma , liṅga , śiva , skanda , agni Purāṇa.

sātvikeṣu purāṇeṣu māhātmyamadhikaṃ hareḥ |
rājaseṣu ca māhātmyamadhikaṃ brahmaṇo viduḥ ||
tadvadagneścamāhātmyaṃ tāmaseṣu śivasya ca |
saṅkīrṇeṣu sarasvatyaḥ pitṛṇāṃ ca nigadyate ||

In this classification the all Purāṇas are equally divided in three parts “sātvika , rājasa , tāmasa ” . According to the Garuda Purāṇa the sātvika Purāṇas are divided into three part–“sātvikamuttamam ” , “sātvikamadhyamam ” and “sātvikamadhamam |

It is considered that the number of Purāṇas are 18 from the ancient period. These 18 Purāṇas are mentioned almost in all Purāṇas.

According to Devi Bhāgavata the name of the 18 Purāṇas are—

madvayaṃ bhadvayaṃ caiva bratrayaṃ vacatuṣṭayam |
-ku -skāni -purāṇāni pṛthakapṛthaka ||

madvayaṃmatsya , mārkaṇḍeya
brahma , brahmāṇḍa , brahmavaivarta
bhāgavat , bhaviṣya
varāha , vāmana , vāyu , viṣṇu

These 18 Purāṇas are called as MahāPurāṇa. There are also mentioned about these 18 Mahā-Purāṇas in the chapter 53 of Matsya-Purāṇa. The description of Mahā-Purāṇas in the Matsya-Purāṇa are too brief but they are very useful evidence. There are an another sequence of the 18 Mahā-Purāṇas in the Viṣṇu-Purāṇa (3/6/20-24) & Bhāgavata (12/13/3-8)–“1) brahma , 2) padma 3)viṣṇu 4) śiva 5) bhāgavata 6) nāradīya 7) mārkaṇḍeya 8) agni 9)bhaviṣya 10) brahmavaivarta 11) ligaṃ 12) varāha 13) skanda 14) vāmana 15) kūrma 16) matsya 17) garuḍa 18) brahmāṇḍa ‘.

There are also 18 Upa-Purāṇas. We get the sequence of Upa-Purāṇas in many verses of Purāṇas. According to the Kūrma-Purāṇa

ādyaṃ sanatkumāroktaṃ nārasiṃhamabhāparam |
tṛtīyaṃ skandamuddiṣṭaṃ kumāreṇa ca bhāṣitam ||
caturthaṃ śivadharmāravyaṃ sākṣānnandīśabhāṣitam |
durvāsasoktamāścaryaṃ nāradīyamaḥ param ||
kapila vāmanaṃ caiva tathaivośanaseritam |
brahmaṇḍaṃ vāruṇaṃ cātha kālikāhvayameva ca ||
māheśvaraṃ tathā śamvaṃ sauraṃ sarvārthasacayam |
parāśaroktamaparaṃ mārīcaṃ bhāskarāhvayam ||

The name of the Upa-Purāṇas are–‗ādi , narasiṃha , skanda , śiva , durvāsaḥ , nāradīya , kapila , vāmana , auśanasa , brahmāṇḍa , varuṇa , kālikā , māheśvara , śāmva , saura , pārāśara , mārīca , bhāskara . This name–sequence is also available in the Devībhāgavata, Skanda, Matsya, Garuda Purāṇa. But the other side there is another sequence of name in the Bṛhatviveka. The sequence is “sanatakumāra , nāradīya , vṛhannāradīya , āditya , sūrya , nāndikeśvara , kaurma , bhāgavata , vasiṣṭha , bhārgava , mudgala , kalki , devī , mahābhāgavām , vṛhaddhardha , parānanda , vahṇi , harivaṃśa |

Chapter II: Historical Elements

History is the study of the past in order to understand the meaning and dynamics of the relationship between cause and effect in the overall development of human societies. Its key feature is its broad range of inquiry, as it is as much concerned with wide perspectives, general explanations, and fundamental questions, as with specifies detail or event and the particular interpretation of sources and evidence. The claim of history is not so much its capacity to capture immense detail, or to record knowledge of the past, but to interpret, to handle a rich variety of sources in order to draw out their general relevance or to revel their general significance for human understanding of why and how change occurs. Few historians would context the view that history is not a science as a discipline of study, but is more a branch of the arts or humanities. It can be seen at most as a social science, and even they could not be defined a scientific in any exact or predictive sense.

Some opinion of different scholars or historians about the definition of history are as follows -according to R.G. Collingwood history is “a kind of research or enquiry” into “actions that have been done in the past”, conducted “by the interpretation of evidence”–evidence being further defined as documents. British historian E.H. Carr (1892-1982) has advised that history is not a single, well-defined, narrative or bundle of facts that can be memorized, but a terrain of contestation between completing and evolving interpretations whose influence is as much shaped 13

by time and place as by any given set of facts. According to Burckhardt “History is the record of what one age finds worthy of note in another.” Henry Johnson said “history in its broadest sense, is everything that ever happened.” On the other side according to the great historian V.S. Smith–“The value and interest of history depend largely on the degree in which the present is illuminated by the past.”

There are some divisions of History. The divisions depend on some subjects like date, time, period etc. By period history is divided into three parts–

i) Pre-historic Period (60,000 BC–650 AD)
ii) Post Classical Era (500–1500 CE)
iii) Modern History (1500 CE–Present)

By date also history is divided into three parts–

(i) Century, (ii) Decade and (iii) Periodization.

By time period there are also three divisions of history–(i) Pre-history in which include the stone age, the bronze age and the Iron age. (ii) Ancient history and (iii) Modern history. The classification of history also depend on some other subjects like by geographical region, by geographical sub-region, by religious by nation etc. There are also some different types of history which are classified by many field such as (i) family history, (ii) environmental history, (iii) local history, (iv) maritime history, (v) micro history, (vi) social history, (vii) urban history etc. In this modern sense today history has been divided into six different types–(i) Political history, (ii) Diplomatic history, (iii) cultural history, (iv) social history (v) economic history and (vi) intellectual history.

History is called as “Pañcama-Veda”. History is a real fact what was happened in the ancient period. But it is a documentary topics and it is proved by which elements, they are called historical elements. History is not an imaginary or fictional stories, history is the story of the past. And to know the past some evidences are required. From which the evidences are found called historical elements. The elements or the sources of, or original authorities for, the early history of India may be arranged in four classes, the first of there is tradition, chiefly as recorded in native literature, the second consists of those writings of foreign travelers and historians which contain observations, on Indian subjects, the third is the evidence of archaeology, which may be subdivided into the monumental, the epigraphic, and the numismatic, and the fourth comprises the few works of native contemporary or nearly contemporary, literature which deal expressly with historical subjects. On the other 14

side we generally can divided the elements into six parts. They are coin, architectural, sculpture, various types of religious books, copperplate and travel stories of many travelers. We know about the emperor. Samudragupta by the “Alahabad” pillar inscription. We know about many Bactrian and Śaka kings by the coins. We also know about the Sātbāhanarāj by their silver coin. The “Harappa & Mahenjodaro” , the famous archaeological site also prove many historical facts in ancient period. We get many social images in that time by the “Bouddha-Jātakmālā” , the famous book. We know the ancient politics from the “Ārthaśāstra”, the ageless creation of Kautilya. Not only these books but the famous travel story like “Indika” by Megasthinis also tells us many histories. There are also many famous books like–Rājtaranginī by Kalhan, Rāmcarita by Sandhyākar Nandi, Gaurbāho by Bākpatirāj etc. Purāṇas are also a literary evidence as we get many historical information from the Purāṇas.

Chapter III: Historical Elements in the Mahā-Purāṇas

As the Purāṇas are literary evidence of our Indian culture and history, all the Purāṇas are rich in various information. Though Purāṇa is a repository of various types of knowledge and information, among the subject history is that topic which is found in abundance in the Purāṇas. We can analyze the history described in Purāṇas by dividing them into three categories–(i) Geographical history, (ii) Cultural history and (iii) Human history.

All the historical information is contained in the “Pañcalakṣaṇa” of the Purāṇas. The geographical data of the Purāṇas is mostly described in their first two “Lakṣaṇas” which deal with cosmogony, cosmology and cosmography. They include among other related matters, the origin of the universe and the earth, the oceans and the continents, mountain systems of the world, regions and their people and astronomical geography. Incidental references to the geography of different lands, particularly those of Bhārata, occur throughout the Purāṇas in the historical accounts contained in them. One has to put all the isolated facts together to get a picture of the lands and their people to which they refer or which they intended to describe. Like geographical data, cultural and human history of The Mahā-Purāṇas are mostly described in their two “Lakṣaṇas” those are “Vaṃśa” and “Vaṃśānucarita”. Cultural history attaches the way of dealing with anthropology and history to point out popular cultural traditions and cultural expositions of historical experience. Cultural history 15

records and illustrates the past incidents involving people through the social, cultural and political atmosphere. In the Mahā-Purāṇas dynastic tradition of different kings and sages at different times has been described as human history. Human history has been described in the Purāṇas based on the repetition of the old. And the authenticity of this history is proved by the inscriptions. Later on, the Purāṇas have enriched themselves day by day to collect various information of the dynasties.

i) Geographical History–

We know about the “Caturdvīpa” by the Vāyu Purāṇa (Ch-34). There are also the descriptions about the “Saptadvīpa” in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (Ch-2/4), Bhāgvata Purāṇa (Ch-5/20) and Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa (Ch-546). We know about the Bhāratvarṣa from the Vāyu Purāṇa (Ch-33/51–52), Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa (Ch-53/39–40), Bhāgvata Purāṇa (Ch-11/15–17). There are also descriptions of seven mountains, rivers and localities in the Kurma-Purāṇa (Ch-57), Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa (Ch-49), Matsya Purāṇa (Ch-114), Vāyu Purāṇa (Ch-45) and Vāmana Purāṇa (Ch-13) etc. Nine parts of Bhāratvarsa have been described in the Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa (Ch-13/11), Vāyu Purāṇa (Ch-45/78), Vāmana Purāṇa (Ch-13/11) etc.

ii) Cultural History–

Many religious topics about the process of “Dāna-Dhyāna-Vrata-Śrāddha” are in the Purāṇas. We know about the Varṇa, Jāti, Social structure, family etc. from the Purāṇas. Also almost all Purāṇas contain the text about the marriage and position of women in the society. We know the process of Vrata (vow) from the Padma Purāṇa (Ch-6/53/4-6). There are descriptions “Śrāddha” in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (Ch-3/14/22–23). We know about the “Rājadharma” (duty of a king) from the Agni Purāṇa (Ch-218–Ch-237). We also know about the various types of Vidyā (knowledge) from the Purāṇas. There are descriptions about the Ayurveda in the Garuda Purāṇa (Ch 146–Ch 202), Agni Purāṇa (Ch 279–Ch 286). From the Devībhāgvata (Ch 4–Ch 20), Śrimadbhāgvata (Ch 16–Ch 24) and Garuḍa Purāṇa (Ch 51–Ch 64) we know about the Astrology.

iii) Human History–

There are a huge information about the many ancient kings and their kingdoms, dynasties etc. in the Purāṇas. The Śrimadbhāgvata (Ch–9/12/5) and Viṣṇu Purāṇa (Ch–4/4/48) describe about the Ikṣvāku dynasty. We can get the description of Paurava dynasty and the life style of that time from the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (Ch–4/19/2–8), Vāyu-Purāṇa (Ch-99/137–158) and Bhāgvata-Purāṇa (Ch-9/20/21–32). There are many vast chapters about the Maurya dynasty in the Vāyu Purāṇa (Ch–99), Brahmaṇḍa Purāṇa (Ch–3), Viṣṇu Purāṇa (Ch–4/24) and Bhaviṣya Purāṇa (Ch–12/1). We can get the information about the dynasties of Bṛhadratha, Pradyota, Śiśunāga, Nanda, Śunga, Kanva, Andhra from the Bhāgvata Purāṇa (Ch–12). In addition to these there are many descriptions about the many overseas races in the Purāṇas.

Chapter IV: Geographical History in the Matsya Purāṇa

Geographical history is the branch of history which studies the ways in which geographic phenomena have changed over time. It is a broadly synthetic discipline which shares both topical and methodological similarities with history, anthropology, ecology, geology, environmental studies, literary studies, and the other fields, Geographical history describes the geographical maps, climates etc. of ancient period. Many scholars have considered that there are the two parts of geographical descriptions–in the first one there are description about total world and the another part describes only about the India. The two parts are same important in the Purāṇas. We can notice that there are many geographical information in the Matsya-Purāṇa. In the Purāṇas “Bhubanakoṣa” is a very important subject. To understand about this it is essential to know about the “Meruparvata”, the centre of “Bhū-vṛtta”. It has been mentioned about the “Meruparvata” in the Matsya Purāṇa (Ch.113/14). After that there are mentioned about the “Caturdvīpa” (Four lands) in Matsya Purāṇa (Ch. 113/43-44). We get the description of “Saptadvīpa” (Seven lands) from the Matsya Purāṇa which are “Jambudvīpa, Gomedakavīpy, Sālmalidvīpa, Kuśadvīpa, Krauñcadvīpa, Śakadvīpa and Puṣkaradvīpa. The chapter 122 of Matsya-Purāṇa has described about the Śakadvīpa. Jambudvīpa has been described in the chapter 121 also. Also we know the information about the Kailasa mountain, seven branches of the river Ganga from the chapter 121 of the Matsya Purāṇa. The river Ganges is mentioned too in the chapter 114 of the Matsya-Purāṇa. There are descriptions of the Kuśadvipa, Kauñcadvipa and Śalmaladvīpa in the chapter 122 of this Purāṇa. The Gomedakadvīp and Puṣkaradvipa have been described in the chapter 123 of the Purāṇa. A huge description of the Bhāratavarṣa has been described in the Matsya-Purāṇa (Ch. 114/7). There are also many descriptions about the glory of our Indian sacred places in the Matsya Purāṇa, like Kāśī (Ch-184), Vārāṇasi (Ch-180), Avimuktakṣetra (Ch-181, 182, 183), Narmadā (Ch-186), sacred place near by the bank of Narmadā river (Ch-190, 191, 194) and Śuklatīrtha (Ch-192) etc. 17

Chapter V: Cultural History in the Matsya Purāṇa

Cultural history combines the approaches of anthropology and history to look at popular cultural traditions and cultural interpretations of historical experience. There are many cultural histories in the Matsya Purāṇa. It is very important part of the cultural information of the Matsya Purāṇa that is the description of social structure because society is the only thing by which culture is preserved. The Matsya Purāṇa describes about family in the chapter 131, 208–214, 100, 154, 155, 227 etc.

There are also descriptions about father, mother, son and daughter (Ch.-31, 32, 29, 28). Also the Matsya Purāṇa describes about women and their position in the society. Marriage is a very important subject in the Matsya Purāṇa. Matsya Purāṇa also contains about the exogamy-endogamy and “Niyoga” . The Matsya Purāṇa also narrates about the Varṇa system (Cast system) in the chapter 145. There are many useful descriptions on monarchy in the Matsya Purāṇa. After that Matsya Purāṇa describes about many Hindu rituals such as Śraddha, Dāna, Dhyāna, Vrata and rules of many kind of worships of Gods and Goddess. The chapter 93 from which we know about the rituals of “Graha-Śanti” (Planet peace), and the chapter 264 in which we get many formalities to establish the God. The Matsya Purāṇa also describes about various types of Vrata (vow) like Adityaśayana Vrata (Ch-55), ‗Śrikṛṣṇāśtami Vrata (Ch-56), Rohiṇīcandraśayana Vrata (Ch-57), Anantatṛtīyā Vrata (Ch-62), Rasakalyaṇinī Vrata (Ch-63), Ārdrānandakarī Vrata (Ch-64), Akṣayatṛtiya Vrata (Ch-65) and Sārasvata Vrata etc. There are also many other descriptions of many Vratas like–Madanadvādaśī Vrata Nakṣatrapuraṣa Vrata, Sauvāgyaśayana Vrata, Saptamīsnapana Vrata, Bhīmadvādaśi Vrata, Paṇyaśtī Vrata, Aśūṇyaśayana Vrata, Angāraka Vrata, Kalyāṇasaptamī Vrta, Viśokasaptamī Vrata, Falasaptamī Vrata, Śarkarāsaptamī Vrata, Kamalasaptamī Vrata, Mandārasaptamī Vrata Śubhasaptamī Vrata, Viśokadvādaśī Vrata, Māheśvara Vrata, Sarvafalatyāga Vrata and Vibhūtīdvādaśī Vrata. Matsya-Purāṇa also contains about various types of Dāna (donation) like–Gura dhenu dāna (Ch-82), Parvatadāna (Ch-83), Lavaṇacaladāna (Ch-84), Gura parvatakdāna (Ch-85), Sūvarṇācala dāna (Ch-86), Tilśailaka dāna (Ch-87), Kārpāsacala dāna (Ch-88), Ghṛtacala dāna (Ch-89), Ratnācala dāna (Ch-90) and Rajatācala dana (Ch-91) etc. There are also some description of Śrāddha in the chapters 15, 16, 17, 18 and 22 of Matsya-Purāṇa. In addition to these there are also some different subjects on culture like good or bad result of limb vibration (Ch-241), 18

good or bad result of dreaming (Ch-242 & 243), Construction of a Fort (Ch-217 & 218), Construction of a temple, garden, well and pond etc. (Ch-58).

Chapter VI: Human History in the Matsya Purāṇa

Human history is a part of history. It is the history of the human species from the planet earth. In the brief sense human history means the history of many kings, and their kingdoms. Not only the kings but the descriptions of sages and other historical person also are in the human history. Like cultural and geographical history there are plenty of human history too in the Matsya Purāṇa. In the chapter 11 of Matsya Purāṇa we find the description about the Solar and Lunar dynasty. There are a huge description of Ikṣvāku dynasty in the Matsya-Purāṇa. We also know about the Haihaya dynasty (Chapter-43), Turvasu dynasty (Ch-48/5) and Druhya dynasty (Ch-48/9) from the Matsya Purāṇa. We can get the description about the great character Bharata-Dauṣanti from this Purāṇa. The great dynasty, Kuru is also mentioned in this Purāṇa (Ch-90). After that the Matsya Purāṇa narrates about the Magadha empire.

According to the Matsya-Purāṇa–

dvārtriśati nṛpā dyete bhavitāro bṛhadrathāḥ
-varṣa -sahasrantu teṣāṃ rājyaṃ bhaviṣyati ||

We know about the Śiśunāga dynasty from this Purāṇa.

The Matsya Purāṇa says about the last king of Śiśunāga dynasty, Mahāpadmananda—

mahānandisutaścāpi śudrāyāṃ kalikaṃ śajaḥ
utpatsyate mahāpadmaḥ sarvakṣatrāntakonṛpaḥ ||
tataḥ prabhṛti rājāno bhaviṣyāḥ śūdrayonayaḥ |
ekarāṭ sa mahāpadma ekacchatro bhaviṣyati ||

matsyapurāṇa 171 /17 -18

We know also about the Nanda dynasty by the Matsya Purāṇa. The description of great Mourya dynasty is also available in the Matsya Purāṇa (Ch-272). Not only these but there are also a lot of narration about pre & post Mourya kingdoms like Śunga, Bṛhadratha, and Āndhra dynasty in the Matsya-Purāṇa. The description of great Pradyota dynasty occupies the place in the chapter 272 of the Matsya-Purāṇa.

There are also about the Kaśyap dynasty (Ch-6) and Pitṛ dynasty (Ch-15) in the Matsya Purāṇa. Some clans of sages are also described in the Matsya-Purāṇa such as–clan of Maharṣi Kauśika and his sons, Guru of demon -Śukrācārya and his daughter Devyānī, clan of Maharṣi Agastya and Vasiṣṭha, lineage of Bhṛgu, clan of Ṛṣi Angirā, clan of Ṛṣi Atri, clan of Maharṣi Visvāmitra, clan of Maharṣi Kāṣyapa, clan of Ṛṣi Vasiṣṭha, clan of Ṛṣi Parāśara, and clan of Ṛṣi Pulaha, Pulastya and Kratu etc.


The historical elements in the Matsya Purāṇa are the main theme of this research work. The Matsya Purāṇa carries much information about the history. Not only the Matsya Purāṇa but also the all Maha Purāṇas carry much historical information. Some scholars had done some great works in this field. But yet the specific historical study of the Matsya Purāṇa has not done by anyone. So I have chosen the topic as my research work.

I have divided it into 6 chapters to make the research work easy and simple. Also at the beginning of the chapters a general introduction is given on the Purāṇa. Then the first chapter begins with the general features of Purāṇa and the definition of Purāṇa. This chapter deals with the information contained in various texts and according to various scholars. The second chapter deals with history and the elements of history. There are also explanations of how history and Purāṇa relate. The third chapter gives a brief description of the historical elements in the Mahā Purāṇas. The fourth chapter describes the geographical history of the Matsya Purāṇa. The fifth chapter contains the explanation of the cultural history of the Matsya Purāṇa and the last chapter i.e. the sixty chapter contains the description of human history.

The specially of this research work is that in the Matsya Purāṇa different subjects have been described by different ways in different chapters, such as–geography, philosophy, society etc. I have tried to unravel the contents of history separately from it. Although the Purāṇa has changed all the time, I have tried to present the Indian history of that time from the perspective of the Matsya Purāṇa.

All the above discussions have been analyzed in our Ph.D. Thesis thoroughly. 20

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: