Historical Elements in the Matsya Purana

by Chaitali Kadia | 2021 | 91,183 words

This page relates ‘Saptadvipa (2): Shakadvipa’ of the study on the historical elements of the Matsya-purana: one of the eighteen Mahapuranas which are Sanskrit texts that have preserved the cultural heritage, philosophy, religion, geography, etc of ancient India. This Matsyapurana was originally written in 20,000 verses and deals with topics such as architecture, ancient history, polity, religion and philosophy.

The mythological material related to Śākadvīpa is very important and geographical facts are absolutely complete. The Matsya Purāṇa (Chapter 122) gives the detail description about the dvīpa . In this dvīpa there are seven Mountains and seven rivers. The Matsya Purāṇa gives them two names. The secret of these two names seems to be that one name is Indian and the other name is foreign (by people of Śāka ). The Purāṇas have described the island so well that the identification can be done on the basis of it in a completely authentic manner.

According to the Matsya Purāṇa the expansion of Śākadvīpa is twice the extent of the Jambudvīpa and its spread around is also three times the expansion. This island is surrounded by the Lavaṇasāgar . There are many sacred countries in the Śākadvīpa[1]. This island also has seven Mountains of white color decorated with beads. There are seven Mountains in the three islands of the Śākadvīpa etc., which are directly spread in all four directions. These are called the Varṣaparvata . The Varṣaparvata named Ratnākarādri is full of high peaks and trees. These islands are spread in all four directions in the magnitude of expansion and have reached one the Kṣīrasāgara and on the other side the Lavaṇasāgara . The first Mountain among them is called Meru, which is served by Gods, sages and Gandharvas . That golden Mountain is spread in the east direction. Its other name is ‘Udayagiri ’. There the clouds come to rain and go after pouring water in its side, there is a huge Mountain called ‘Jaladhar ’, full of all the medicines. It is also famous as ‘Candra ’.[2] At the same time there is a great prosperous Mountain named ‘Nārada ’, which is also called ‘Durgashail ’ Mountain. In the past, both ‘Nārada ’ and ‘Durgashail ’ Mountains originated here. After that there is a very huge Mountain called Shyām , where all these species had got to ‘Shyāmala ’ (black) in the past. Similar to this Mountain, there is also a black colored Mountain like Dundubhi , on which in ancient times, the enemies died when the Gods were replaced by Dundubhi . In the end there are clusters of gems in it and it is beautified with seminal trees. After that there is the great ‘Astācala ’ which is full of silver. It is also called ‘Somaka ’.[3] Then there is the mahāparvata called ‘Āstācala ’ which is full of silver. It is also called ‘Āmbikeya ’ also known as ‘Sumanā ’. On this Mountain Lord Varāha killedHirṇyākṣa . After the ‘Āmbikeya ’ Mountain, it is the most delightful great Mountain, full of all the herbs and spread with crystal rocks. The Mountain is known as ‘Vibhrāja ’. In this Mountain fire is especially stimulated, that is why it is called ‘Vibhrāja ’. This is called ‘Keśaba ’. This is where the speed of air starts.[4]

These are the description of the Mountain on the Śākadvīpa and then there is the description of the Varṣas . According to the Purāṇa just like there are two names of the Mountains, similarly there are two names of the Varṣas . The Varṣa of ‘Udayaparvata ’ are known as ‘Udaya ’ and ‘Jaladhar ’. The first ‘Udayavarṣa ’ in them is named as ‘Gatabhaya ’. The second Varṣa of the ‘Jaladhara ’ Mountain is called as ‘Sukumāra ’, which is also known as ‘Śaiśira ’. The name of the Varṣa of the ‘Nārada ’ Mountain is ‘Kaumāra ’. This is also called as ‘Sukhodaya ’. The varṣa of the ‘Śyāma ’ Mountain is called ‘Anīcakra ’. The same prosperous varṣa is also called ‘Ānandaka ’. The varṣa of famous Mountain ‘Somaka ’ should be known as ‘Kusumotkara ’. The varṣa with the same name ‘Somaka ’ is also called ‘Asita ’. The varṣa of the ‘Ambikeya ’ Mountain is famous as ‘Maināka ’ and ‘Kṣemaka ’. Name of the seventh varṣa of the ‘Keśara ’ Mountain is ‘Vibhrāja ’ which is also named ‘Dhruva ’.[5]

The extent and breadth of the Śākadvīpa is greater than the size of the ‘Jambudvīpa ’. In the central part of this dvīpa there is a great plant called Śaka .[6] This dvīpa has very beautiful countries rich with all the four varṇa (Caturvarṇa ) species. There are also seven rivers, which lastly join to the sea in the each varṣa and all the river are of two names. Only seven types of the Gangā are told. The holy and prosperous first Gangā is called as ‘Sukumāri ’. This is also famous as ‘Anutapta ’. The second Gangā is ‘Tapahsiddhā Sukumāri ’. This river is also famous as ‘Sati ’. The third Gangā is famous as ‘Nandā ’ and ‘Pāvanī ’. The fourth Gangā is ‘Śibikā ’, is also called ‘Dvividhā ’. ‘Ikṣu ’ should be considered as the fifth Gangā . Similarly, it is also called ‘Kuhū ’. Sixth Gangā is famous as ‘Veṇukā ’ and ‘Amṛtā ’. The seventh Gangā is called ‘Sukṛtā ’ and ‘Gabhastī ’. These seven Gangās , full of well-being and great fortune, purify all the creatures of all the varṣas of the Śākadvīpa . Others big rivers and lakes also originate from these Gangās streams, due to which all these are inflowing water.[7] Sāntamaya ’, ‘Pramoda ’, ‘Śiva ’, ‘Ānanda ’, ‘Sukha ’, ‘Kṣemaka ’ and ‘Nava ’–these are the seven famous countries on the river banks.

Apart from the Matsya Purāṇa , there is much information about Śākadvīpa almost in the other Purāṇas . In the Bhaviṣya Purāṇa , significant information is available about the people living in the Śākadvīpa .

The Bhaviṣya Purāṇa states that four castes resided in this island, which can be considered representative of ‘Caturvarṇas ’ of India

tatra pūṇyā janapadāścaturvarṇasamanvitāḥ |
magāśca magagāścaiva gānagā mandagāstathā ||
magāḥ brāhmaṇabhūyiṣṭhā magagāḥ kṣatriyāḥ smṛtāḥ |
vaiśyāstu gānagā jñeyāḥ śūdrāsteṣāṃ tu mandagāḥ ||
Bhavisya (1/139)

On the basis of this information of the Bhaviṣya Purāṇa , the castes of the Śākadvīpa are divided into four varṇasMagha is Brāhmaṇa , Magaga is Kṣatriya , Gangā is Vaiśya and Mandaga is Śudra.

The names of these people are somewhat different in the Mahābhārata

tatra puṇyā janapadāścatvāro loka-sammitāḥ |
magāśca maśakāścaiva mānasā mandagāstathā ||

Mahābhārata (6/12/33)

This statement given in the Mahābhārata indicates that although he first and last name are similar to the Matsya Puāṇa , the middle two nations have different names. The text ‘Maṣakā ’ is found in place of ‘Magaga ’ and ‘Mānasā ’ in place of ‘Gangā ’. On the other hand, the Sun was the most venerable deity of the Śaka nation.

Its identity is found in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa

śākadvīpe tu tairviṣṇuḥ sūryarūpadharo mune |
yathoktairijyate samyak karmabhirniyatātmabhiḥ ||
Viṣṇu (2/4/70)

Also the description of the Śākadvipa is in the Vāyu Purāṇa (Chapter-49) and Liṅga Purāṇa (Chapter-53).

Footnotes and references:


Matsya Purāṇa, Ch.–121/2, 3


Matsya Purāṇa, Ch.–122/4–10


Matsya Purāṇa, Ch.–122/11–15


Matsya Purāṇa, Ch.–122/16–18


Matsya Purāṇa, Ch.–122/26, 28


Matsya Purāṇa, Ch.–122/26, 27


Matsya Purāṇa, Ch.–122/28–35

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