The Matsya Purana (critical study)

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

This page relates ‘Rivers and Mountains of Bharatavarsha’ 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 2 - Rivers and Mountains of Bhāratavarṣa

The Matsyapurāṇa has praised the continent Bhārata thus:

yataḥ svargaśca mokṣaśca madhyamaścapi hi smṛtaḥ /
na khalvanyatra martyānāṃ bhūmau karmavidhiḥ smṛtaḥ// [1]

In its view, there is no country like Bhārata. Even it is superior to heaven, since the gods in heaven wish to take birth in Bhārata. Bhārata is the karmabhūmi. It is the land of performing action. All fruits of human life, the seeds are in the soil of Bhārata. This Purāṇa has given an elaborate description of Bhārata, which includes mountains, river, janapadas and many more.

The mountains have been occupying a prominent place not only in Purāṇas but also in other ancient literature. High and steep mountains with broad river valleys not only control and guide human movements but also influence the human settlements. The Purāṇas, therefore, always introduce regions, lands or countries, big or small by means of their important mountains. However, the authors of the Purāṇas classify mountains according to their functional significances. For instance, the Varṣa Parvatas, Maryādā Parvatas, Keśarācalas, Viṣkambha Parvatas and Kūla Parvatas. This classification is quite helpful for the identification of land features on a relief map of a country. Many scholars have attempted to identify and locate those mountains on a modern map of India.

As per the text of the Matsyapurāṇa there are seven Kūlaparvatas, viz., Mahendra, Malaya, Sahya, Śaktimān, Ṛkṣamān, Vindhya and Pariyātra.[2] In addition to these there are thousands of other mountains. These seven Kūlaparvatas of Bhārata are similarly enumerated in all authorities and their situations on the physical map of India may be determined with some confidence by the rivers rising from them. In spite of this, some controversies have accumulated with respect to the identification of some of these mountains which may be highlighted in the following paragraphs by discussing each one of the Kūlaparvatas separately.


The Matsyapurāṇa mentions that the rivers arising from Mahendra mountain are: Tāmraparṇī, Mūlī, Śaravā and Vimala.[3] It is said by H.C.Roy Choudhury that Mahendra mountain is the chain of hills that extends from Ganjam of Orissa to Tennevely of Andhra Pradesh, a part of which is still called as Mahendra Malai in Ganjam. In other words, it is the existing Eastern Ghats of India which runs almost parallel to the East Coast.[4]


It is identified with the southern portion of the Western Ghats, i.e., the section from the Nīlgiri on the north, to the proximity of Cape Comorin on the south[5] . In other words, this is the portion of Western Ghats situated on Malabar Coast and bears the common name. From the Malaya mountain, the following auspicious; rivers rise: Kṛtamālā, Tāmraparṇī, Puṣpajā Utpalāvatī.


This mountain has been accurately identified with northern portion of the Western Ghats extending down from the Tapti on the north to the Nilgiri on the south. This name still continues throughout Maharashtra and Konkan.[6] From the Sahya mountain the following rivers arise: Godāvarī, Bhimarathī, Kṛṣṇavenī, Vañjulā, Tuṅgabhadrā, Suprayogā, Vāhyā, Kāverī. These are the rivers of Dakṣinapatha. Near the Sahya mountain there is a river Godāvarī and the region around it is said to be most charming.

Śaktiman or Śuktimān:

The identification of this mountain is covered by the greatest obscurity and extremely divergent opinions are held by the scholars. Dr. Raychoudhury suggests that the name Śuktimān is probably applied to the chain of hills that extends from Śukti in Raigarh district of Chhatisgarh to that of Dalma hills in the Manbhum (Bihar) and perhaps to the hills in the Santhala Parganas drained by the affluent river Babla.[7] Prof. M. Ali explains that Śaktiman or Śuktimān is one of the seven principal ranges of peninsular India.[8] However, it is not easy to identify these rivers. According to the Matsyapurāṇa the Suktimat mountain is the source of the following rivers: Kāśikā, Sukumārī, Mandagā, Mandavāhinī, Kṛpā and Pāsinī. They meet the ocean. They are described as auspicious, the mothers of the world and the destroyers of all sins. They have hundreds and thousands of tributaries and distributaries.[9]


In the Purāṇas, sometimes Ṛkṣa has been confused with the Vindhya. Perhaps, it implies the chain of the central Vindhya near about central Narmada region.[10] Prof. S. M. Ali is very specific on giving the idea of Ṛkṣa. According to him, it represents the modern Vindhyas from the source of the Sonar to the eastern limit of the ranges which mark the catchment area of the river Son.[11] The Matsyapurāṇa describes many rivers which arise from this mountain. These are: Mandākinī, Daśarṇā, Citrakūṭā, Tamasā, Pippalī, Śyenī, Citrotpalā, Vimala, Cañcalā, Dhutavāhinī, Śuktimatī, Śunī, Lajjā, Mukuṭā and Hradikā.[12]


Vindhyācala is well known mountain range which extends along the north of the Narmadā up to Amarakantaka on one hand and up to Kumar range in the Son valley up to the Mirzapur area. Vindhya is the source of rivers like Sonā, Narmadā, Mahānadī, Tamasā etc. However, in the Matsyapurāṇa, it is said that The Vindhya mountain is the source of the following rivers: Tāpī, Payoṣṇi, Nirvindhyā, Kṣiprā, Ṛṣabhā, Venā, Viśvamālā, Kumudvatī, Toyā, Mahāgaurī, Durgamā and Śilā.[13]


It is the ring of ranges north of the Narmadā which nearly encircles the catchment area of the Chambal and the Betwā. It corresponds to the Aravallis and the present Western Vindhya i.e., west of Bhopal.[14] Vedasmṛti, Vetravatī, Vṛtraghni, Sindhu, Parṇāśā, Narmadā, Kāverī, Pārā, Dhanvatī, Rūpā, Viduṣā, Venumatī, Śiprā, Avantī and Kuntī are the rivers arising from Pāriyātra mountain.[15]

The Matsyapurāṇa has also enumerated the rivers which rise from the Himalayas. These are: Ganges, Sindhu, Sarasvatī Śatadru, Airāvatī, Vitastā, Viśālā, Devikā, Kuhū, Gomatī, Dhautapāpā, Bāhudā, Dṛṣadvatī,Kauśikī, Tṛtīyā, Niścala, Gaṇḍakī, Ikṣu, Lohita. Most of these rivers are well-known rivers and their geographical identification is without any doubt.

Footnotes and references:


, 114.5-6


Ibid., 114.17-18


Matsyapurāṇa, 114.31


Hemchandra Raychodhury, Studies in Indian Antiquitie, p.l19


Ibid., p.109


Ibid., p.91


Hemchandra Raychodhury, op. cit., pp.68-70


S.M. Ali, op.cit., p.12


, 114.


Hemchandra Raychodhury, op.cit., p. 120


S. M. Ali, op.cit., p. 112


Matsyapurāṇa, 114.25-26


, 114.27-28


S. M. Ali, op.cit., p.112,


, 114,23-24

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