The Matsya Purana (critical study)

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

This page relates ‘Bhuvanakosha: Geography of Seven Continents (saptadvipa)’ 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.

Part 1 - Bhūvanakoṣa: Geography of Seven Continents (saptadvīpā)

There are two different concepts of the bhūvanakoṣa or geography of earth, viz., caturdvīpī bhūgola and saptadvīpī bhūgola in the Purāṇas. One is based on the four dvīpas where the earth is presented as in the shape of lotus with mount Mahāmeru as its pericarp.[1] Another is saptadvīpā basumatī concept, i.e., earth with seven dvīpas. Most of the Purāṇas along with Matsyapurāṇa have given more emphasis on the concept of saptādvīpa basumatī, i.e., the earth with seven dvīpas. However, some of the scholars of old age claim that the concept of four dvīpas which is proved to be older is more realistic

According to the Purāṇas the seven dvīpas are:

  1. Jambū,
  2. Plākṣa,
  3. Śālmala,
  4. Kuśa,
  5. Krauñca,
  6. Śāka and
  7. Puṣkara.

These dvīpas are surrounded by the seven oceans.

  1. Jambū is surrounded by the ocean Lavana (ocean of salt).
  2. Plākṣa is surrounded by Ikṣu (ocean of sugarcane juice),
  3. Śālmala is surrounded by the ocean Surā (ocean of wine),
  4. Kuśa is surrounded by the ocean Sarpis (ocean of ghee),
  5. Krauñca is surrounded by the ocean Dadhi (ocean of curd),
  6. Śāka is surrounded by the ocean Kṣīra (ocean of milk) and
  7. Puṣkara is surrounded by the ocean jala (ocean of water) respectively.[13]

The earliest reference to saptadvīpā basumatī concept seems to be found in the Mahābhāṣya of Patañjali who flourished at the court of Puṣyamitra of Śuṅga dynasty.[14]

Of these seven dvīpas, Jambūdvīpa is situated at the centre. It has an area of one lakh of yojanas,[15] which is again divided from south to north into seven Varṣas. There are six ranges of mountain running from east to west demarcating the Varṣas.[16] From south to north it is known as Haimavata, which is also known as Bhārata. The Vāyupurāṇa and the Matsyapurāṇa mentioned the Haimavata as the name of Bhāratavarṣa[17] but in the Mahābhārata it is presented as the separate varṣa in the sapta-dvīpa geography.[18]

The second one is Kiṃpuruṣavarṣa. Third one is Harivarṣa.[19] The Ilāvṛtavarṣa is in the centre and encircles the Mahāmeru on all sides. Its expanse is 24000 yojanas.[20] The Meru Mountain is in the centre of the Ilāvṛta.[21] Its southern portion is called Dakṣina Meru and northern part is called Uttara Meru. Towards the north of Meru in order from south to north are Ramyakavarṣa, Hiraṇyakavarṣa and Uttarakuru or Kuruvarṣa or Śṛṅgaśākavarṣa.[2]

The seven mountains which separate the varṣas are:

  1. The mountain Himavān is in the north of Bhāratavarṣa.
  2. The Hemakūṭa mountain is in the north of Kiṃpuruṣavarṣa.
  3. The Niṣadha mountain separates Harivarṣa from the north.
  4. The Meru mountain separate Ilāvṛtavarṣa
  5. The Malyavān mountain is between Ilāvṛtavarṣa and Bhadraśva.
  6. In the west Gandhamādana mountain is between Ilāvṛtavarṣa and Ketumalavarṣa.
  7. North of Ilāvṛttavarṣa, separating it from Ramyaka is the Nīla mountain.

These are like the seven zones of a sphere by which Jambūdvīpa formed.

There are seven major mountain ranges in Bhāratavarṣa and their names are:

  1. Mahendra,
  2. Malaya,
  3. Sahya,
  4. Śaktimāna,
  5. Ṛkṣavān,
  6. Vindhya and
  7. Pariyātra.[3]

Bhāratavarṣa itself is divided into nine regions (dvīpas). The names of eight of these regions are:

  1. Indradvīpa,
  2. Keśara,
  3. Tāmraparṇī,
  4. Gabhastimān,
  5. Nāgadvīpa,
  6. Saumya,
  7. Gandharva and
  8. Varuṇa.

The ninth region is completely surrounded by the ocean in all directions.[4] To the east of Bhāratavarṣa, there lived the Kirātas and to the west the Yavanas.[5]

Here it should be mentioned that the concept of the four dvīpas is regarded as earlier or more ancient. According to this concept, the earth was shaped like a lotus. Mount Mahāmeru is the centre of the earth forming the pericarp of the four petalled lotus. The four dvīpas or islands are Kuru, Jambū, Bhadrāśva and Ketumāla. These dvīpas are imagined as the four petals of the lotus as the mount Meru is said to be its karṇikā. [6] The four dvīpas are located on the four sides of Meru. Therefore the mountain Meru is compared with the four faced Prajāpati Brahmā.[7] The Bhadrāśva is on the east, Jambūdvīpa on the south, Ketumāla on the west and Uttarakuru on the north of the Meru.[8] Bhadrāśva is signified as an auspicious horse. The Jambudvīpa is known as Bhāratavarṣa. As it has already been mentioned in the Matsyapurāṇa, the Haimavata is mentioned as the name of the Bhāratavarṣa.[9] The centre where Meru itself is situated is called as Ilāvṛta.[10] The north of the Meru is named as North (uttara) Vedyardha and the southern part is called South Vedyardha.The antiquities of the four dvīpas are found in the Ṛgveda where the four oceans are mentioned. The ancient Buddhist literature also accepts the concept of four dvīpas in which Jambudvīpa is used as the synonym of Bhāratavarṣa. In the later conception of seven dvīpas, Bhārata is introduced as one of the nine Varṣas of Jambudvīpa.

Thus it is clear that in terms of saptadvīpa concept same Haimavata and Bhārata became separate. Krishnadasa Rai opines that,

“Most probably this new and expanded conception arose in the time of Ashoka as a result of vast missionary activities in the foreign countries.”[11]

However, the Purāṇas have given more emphasis to the later concept of saptadvīpa as is evident from the descriptions of the Purāṇas like Matsyapurāṇa, Vāyupurāṇa etc.

D. R. Mankad mentions that

“…Adhyāyas 39 to 42 of the Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa describe the geography of the four directions and it has been found that the description of the several important places is bodily taken from the Matsyapurāṇa (Adh, 163, 60 ff).” [12]

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

Matsyapurāṇa, 113.43-44

[2]:

Ibid., 113.31

[3]:

Ibid.,114.17-18

[4]:

Ibid.,114.8-9

[5]:

Ibid.,114.11

[6]:

Ibid.,113.43-44

[7]:

Ibid., 113.11-13

[8]:

Ibid.,111.43-44

[9]:

Ibid., 112.27; Vāyupurāṇa,34.27

[10]:

Matsyapurāṇa, 113.19

[11]:

Rai Krishnadasa, ‘Puranic Geography of CaturDvipa’, Purāṇa, Volume I. No. 2, p. 203

[12]:

D. R. Mankad, ‘The Matsya Purāṇa and The Rāmāyaṇa’, Purāṇa, Volume VIII, No. 1, p.159

[13]:

Matsyapurāṇa, 121,122,123; Agnipurāṇa, 108.1-2; Garuḍapurāṇa, 54.4-5; Viṣṇupurāṇa, 2.2.5-7; Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, 56.5-7; Padmapurāṇa, Svargakhaṇḍa, IV

[14]:

Vide, D. C Sircar, Geography of Ancient and Medieval India

[15]:

Matsyapurāṇa, 113.8

[16]:

Ibid., 113.10

[17]:

imaṃ haimavataṃ varṣaṃ bhārataṃ nāma viśrutam// Matsyapurāṇa,113.28; Vāyupurāṇa 34.27

[18]:

idaṃ tu bhārataṃ varṣaṃ tatau haimavataṃ param/ Mahābhārata, 12.6.7

[19]:

Matsyapurāṇa,113.30

[20]:

Ibid., 113.19

[21]:

Ibid.,113.20

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