The Matsya Purana (critical study)

by Kushal Kalita | 2018 | 74,766 words | ISBN-13: 9788171103058

This page relates ‘Theory of Creation’ of the English study on the Matsya-purana: a Sanskrit text preserving ancient Indian traditions and legends written in over 14,000 metrical verses. In this study, the background and content of the Matsyapurana is outlined against the cultural history of ancient India in terms of religion, politics, geography and architectural aspects. It shows how the encyclopedic character causes the text to deal with almost all the aspects of human civilization.

How, when and why the universe has come into existence? Such questions have excited human mind from time immemorial. One of the major questions that is been put forward is how the creator created this Universe. Speculations about cosmogony i.e. the theory of the origin of the Universe and cosmology which reflects the origin structure of the Universe brought the philosophical thought to us. These theories of creation or recreation have come to us with a development of philosophical speculations from the Vedic period onwards. The Atharvaveda, the Vājasaneyīsaṃhitā, the Tattirīya Āraṇyaka and some other works mention about the unity of godhead as the source of the Universe.[1] According to the Śatapathabrāhmaṇa the Supreme Being is regarded as the foundation of all and also the creative principle itself.[2] In the Kaṭhopaniṣad fire (Agni) is shown as the reason of creation.[3] According to the Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad, water is the origin of all things. Water gave birth to Satya, Satya gave birth to Brahmā, Brahmā gave birth to Prajāpati and Prajāpati gave birth the gods.[4]

One of the first question which the Maharṣis asked Sūta concerns about the creation of the Universe. The Matsyapurāṇa gives several theories of creation. According to one of the theory of creation, at the time of the universal dissolution, this Universe remained in darkness wholly immersed as it were in deep sleep. It was then unknowable and indeterminable. Then Svayambhū Nārāyaṇa who is described as the unmanifested one (avyakta), dispelled the darkness and manifested the universe. Desiring to produce beings of various kinds from his body, he meditated first and created the waters and placed the semen in them. It developed into an egg of gold and silver.[5] In brilliance it was equal to a myriad of suns. Svayambhū himself entered into it and permeated it. From the egg was born Āditya, so called because of being born in the very beginning, who was also known as Brahmā because of being born reciting the Vedas (Brahma). One half of this egg became the heaven and other the earth. The middle portion became the sky and space. Then came into being the creatures, the principal mountains including the Meru Mountain, the clouds and lightning, the rivers, the patriarchs, the Manus and the seven oceans full of gems. After that he manifested himself as Prajāpati. From his brilliance was born the Sun. The Matsyapurāṇa describes the creation process from Prakṛti.

Prakṛti is the equilibrium state of three guṇas, viz.,

  1. sattva,
  2. rajas and
  3. tamas.[6]

This Prakṛti is also called Pradhāna and avyakta. This Prakṛti creates and destroys the beings. When the three guṇas are agitated, then appear the Trinity of Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Maheśvara. These three are the manifestation of the same Ultimate Reality.[7] From Prakṛti is born mahat (intellect). From mahat originates ahaṃkāra and from ahaṃkāra are born eleven sense-organs, i.e., five cognitive organs, five motor organs and the mind.

The five organs of cognition (jñānendriya) are:

  1. ear,
  2. skin,
  3. eye,
  4. tongue and
  5. nose.

There are five motor organs, viz.,

  1. the organs of excretion,
  2. the organ of procreation,
  3. hands,
  4. feet and
  5. speech.

The eleventh organ is the mind which is endowed with both knowledge and action.[8] The subtle parts of the senses of cognition constitute the tanmātrās (subtle element).

After the creation of the senses and tanmātrās, the mind continues the creation process.

  1. From śabda-tanmātrā ether (ākāśa) is produced which possesses the quality of sound.
  2. From the agitation of the ether evolved vāyu (air) which has touch as its quality.
  3. Tejas (fire) originates from sparśa-tanmātrā and vāyu. It has sound, touch and colour as its qualities.
  4. From the agitation of fire is produced water having sound, touch, colour and taste.
  5. From gandha-tanmātrā evolves earth possessing five qualities, smell being the fifth quality.[9]

These five are generally called five mahābhūtas (great elements). These are the twenty four material principles in the creation process. The twenty fifth principle is Puruṣa who is the enjoyer of happiness and sorrow. Both Puruṣa and Prakṛti are dependent on the will of God. Puruṣa is the individual self (jīvātmā). Thus, Īśvara or God is the twenty sixth principle described in the Matsyapurāṇa.[10]

The Matsyapurāṇa gives also another version of this egg theory. At the time of the dissolution the Lord absorbed the world in him. After a lapse of one thousand years, he creates an egg from him. This divine world egg is said to be the form of Prajāpati. With a desire to create, the Lord broke it open upward and then again downward. Then it was divided into eight parts. The upper part became the sky and the lower part became the nether land. The water which trickled down from the egg became the Meru. Then the world came into being with different species of life, e.g., gods, demons, serpents, nymphs etc.[11] From this it is clear that this it is clear that variation of the first account mentioned above.

According to an account of creation in the Matsyapurāṇa, Brahmā had relations with his daughter Sāvitrī and had progeny amongst which Manu Svayambhūva or Virāt was notable[12] . Marīci, Vāmadeva aid others were his sons. Through the agency of Manu Svayambhuva and others the earth was peopled.[13] The 6th Chapter of the Matsyapurāṇa is devoted to the enumeration of the different species of life.

The 168th chapter of the Matsyapurāṇa gives another account of creation. The Lord having become waters concealed himself in waters and practiced penance. Then he thought of this universe composed of five elements. At this thought, there occurred slight agitation in waters in which the universe remained concealed in a subtle form. Then on account of the disturbance, there broke forth a cavity, from which originated sound and wind. On account of the agitation in the ocean fire was produced which dried up the waters and consequently, this cavity became ether. Thus ether originated from cavity and from ether came into being the wind. From wind, fire came into existence which was the product of resistance of space and wind. When these elements had come into being, the Lord thought of creating Brahmā. From Brahmā other creatures were produced.

Another cosmogonic account is met with in 128th chapter of this Purāṇa. According to this account before the manifestation of the universe by Brahmā, everything was shrouded in nocturnal darkness. Brahmā had not manifested any objects at that time. Only four elements, i.e., earth, water, air and ether existed then which were presided over by Brahmā, the Self-born. Desirous of creating the Universe Brahmā assumed the form of a fire-worm. In the beginning of creation finding water and earth dissolved in fire he became three fold for light. Then follow the accounts of the origin of different fires, the movements etc. of the sun, the moon, the other planets and stars.

In some of the passages it is observed that the mythological account is mixed up with the philosophical one. Thus, in short, there are mythological as well as philosophical accounts of creation in the Matsyapurāṇa.

Footnotes and references:


Atharvaveda, XIX.6.6; Vājasaneyīsaṃhitā, XXX, I; Tattirīya Āraṇyaka, III.12


Śatapathabrāhmaṇa, XI.1.6.1-11


agniryathaiko bhuvanaṃ praviṣṭo rūpaṃ rūpaṃ pratirūpo babhūva/ Kaṭhopaniṣad,V.9


āpa evedamagra āsuḥ tāpaḥ satyamasṛjanta, satyaṃ brahma, brahma prajāpatiṃ, prajāpatirdevāṃ ste devāḥ satyamevopāsate// Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad.V.5.1


Matsyapurāṇā, 2.25


Ibid., 3.14


Ibid., 3.15-16


Ibid., 3.18-21


Ibid., 3.22-26


Ibid., 3.27-28


Ibid., 247.43-44; 248.1-5


Ibid., 3.30 ff.


Ibid., 4.1 ff.

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