I.—Analysis of the Puranas
By H. H. Wilson, Sec. As. Soc.
[Read at the Meetings of the Society.]
[Extracted from Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, June, 1832, vol. 1, pp. 217-33.]
2. The Brahma Vaivertta Purana.
The Brahma Vaivertta Purana is perhaps the most decidedly sectarian work of the
whole collection, and has no other object than to recommend faith in Krishna and
Radha: subservient to this purpose, it records a great variety of legends, of
which no traces can be found, in any of the other Puranas, and it deals but
sparingly in those which are common to all. It is of little value as a
collateral authority, therefore, and most of the stories, it contains, are too
insipid and absurd to deserve investigation. It contains, however, a few
remarkable passages, that bear an ancient character, and it throws more light
than any similar work upon the worship of the female principle or Prakriti, as
well as of Krishna and Radha.
The Brahma Vaivertta is supposed to be communicated by Sauti, the son of Su'ta, the original narrator of the Puranas, to Saunaka, a sage, at an assembly of similar characters, at the forest of Naimisha, whom he happens to visit, and who ask him to relate the work. This commencement opens several of the Puranas, and more especially the Mahatmyas or chapters, descriptive of the virtues of some place or person, said to be taken from some Purana. In this case, the Rishis state, as the motive of their inquiry, their dread of the evil tendency of the present age, and their desire for emancipation; and their hope to be secured in the one, and defended from the other, by being imbued with Bhakti, or faith in Hari, through the medium of the Purana, which they style the essence of the Puranas, the 6ource of faith, feli- [p.218] city, and final liberation, and the dissipator of the errors of the Puranas, and the Upapuranas, and even of the Vedas!
Sauti acquired his knowledge of this work from Vyasa, by whom it was arranged in its present form, to the extent of eighteen thousand Slokas. Vyasa received the Sutra, the thread or outline of it, from Nareda, who had learnt it from Narayana Rishi, the son of D'herma, to whom it had been communicated by his father. D'herma had been made acquainted with it by Brahma, who had been taught it by Krishna himself, in his peculiar and deathless sphere, the celestial Goloka:—a paradise, it may be observed, of which no trace occurs in any other Purana. The Brahma Vaivertta is so named, because it records the manifestations of the Supreme Being in worldly forms, by the interposition of Krishna, who is himself the Supreme Spirit, the Parabrahma or Paramatma, from whom Prakriti, Brahma, Vishnu, S'iva, and the rest proceeded.
The Brahma Vaivertta Purana is divided into four books or K'handas, the Brahma K'handa, the Prakriti K'handa, the Ganes'a K'handa, and the Krishna Janma K'handa, treating separately of the nature and acts of the supreme; of the female personification of matter; of the birth and adventures of Ganes'a; and of the birth and actions of Krishna. We shall notice the principal subjects of each division.
The Brahma K'handa begins with the creation of the universe, as taking place after an interval of universal destruction. The world is described as waste and void, but the Supreme Krishna, the sole existent and eternal Being, is supposed to be present, in the centre of a luminous sphere of immeasurable extent, and inconceivable splendour. From him the three qualities, crude matter, individuality, and the elements proceed; also Narayana or the four-armed Vishnu, in his ordinary garb and decorations, and Sankara, smeared with ashes, and armed with a trident. Narayana or Vishnu comes from the right, and Siva from the left side of the primeval Krishna, and Brahma springs from his navel: all the gods and goddesses in like manner proceed from his person, and each upon his or her birth utters a short prayer or hymn in honour of him: the following are the salutations of the three principal persons of the Hindu pantheon.
Narayana's address to Krishna.
"I pay reverence to the cause of causes, to him who is at once the act and the object, the superior boon, the giver and meriter, and source of blessings; who is religious austerity, and its everlasting fruit, and himself the eternal ascetic; who is beautiful, black as anew cloud; delighted in his [p.219] own spirit; who is void of desire, who assumes forms at will, who annihilates the five desires, and who is the cause of desire; who is all things, the lord of all things, and the unsurpassed form, which is the seed of all things; who is embodied in the Vedas, who is the seed of them, the fruit of the Vedas, and its bestower; who is learned in the Vedas, the ritual they enjoin, and the best of all who are conversant with their doctrines."
"I adore him, the invincible, the giver, the lord and cause of victory, the best of the bestowers of victory, and victory itself; who is the lord and cause of all things, lord of the lord of all things, and cause of the cause of all things; who is present in all, who upholds all, who destroys all, generates all, who is the cause of the preservation of all, who is all things; who is the fruit, the giver of the fruit, its seed, and its support; who is identical with light, the irradiator of all, and supreme of all those who shine with divine radiance."
"I adore Krishna, who is free from the three qualities, the one imperishable
Govinda, who is invisible and void of form, who is visible and assumed the shape
of a cowherd, who seems a youth in years, who is of mild deportment, the beloved
of the Gopis, of lovely aspect, black as a new cloud, and beautiful as a myriad
of Kanderpas. Inhabiting the place of the Rasa in his sojourn in the groves of
Vrindavan, the lord of the mystic dance, and its performer, and the delighter in
the graces of its evolutions."
The other divinities continue in the same strain, and the tendency of the hymns furnishes a key to the whole work, the object of which is to identify the cowherd of Vrindavan, with the supreme cause of the world, or to claim for Krishna a rank which the followers of Vishnu and Siva demand, exclusively, for the object of their respective adoration: with much more reason it must be confessed; for the actions of Krishna are even still more preposterously incompatible with a divine character than those of his competitors for pre-eminence.
After the several deities are produced from various parts of Krishna's person, he retires into the Rasamandala, a chamber or stage for the performance of a kind of dance, to which the followers of this divinity attach much importance, although it seems to be no more than a kind of dramatic representation of Krishna's dancing and sporting with the Gopis. There, Radha, his favourite mistress, proceeds from his heart; from the pores of her skin spring three hundred millions of Gopis, or nymphs of Vrindavan; and an equal [p.220] number of Gopas, the swains of the preceding, originate from the pores of Krishna's skin; the herds they are to attend owe their existence to the same inexhaustible source. The Rasa and Radha, and the origin of the kine, and their keepers, male or female, are amongst the chief characteristic peculiarities of the Brahma Vaivertta Purana.
After Krishna's thus evolving the different orders of subordinate deities, the work proceeds to describe the devotion of Siva towards his creator, and takes this opportunity of expatiating upon the different degrees of Bhakti, or faith, and the various kinds of Mukti, or salvation.
The work of creation is then resumed by Brahma, who begets by his wife Savitri, a various and odd progeny, as, the science of logic, the modes of music, days, years, and ages, religious rites, diseases, time, and death. He has also an independent offspring of his own, or Viswakerma, from his navel; the sage Sananda, and his three brothers, from his heart; the eleven Ru'dras from his forehead, and sundry sages from his ears, mouth, &c.
The legends that follow relating to the daughters of Dharma, and their marriages with various patriarchs, from whom terrestrial objects proceeded, are told in the usual strain. In describing the origin of the mixed classes of mankind, this work contains a peculiar legend, which makes a certain number of them, the issue of the divine architect Viswakerma by Ghritachi', a nymph of heaven. The chapter often occurs as a separate treatise under the title of Jati Nirnaya, and is considered as an authority of some weight, with respect to the descent of the mixed tribes, although of a purely legendary character.
The succeeding sections contain some legends of little importance, until the 16th, which is occupied with a short, but curious list of medical writers and writings. The first work on medical science entitled the A'yur Veda was, like the other Vedas, the work of Brahma, but he gave it to Surya, the sun, who, like the Phoebus of the Greeks, is the fountain of medical knowledge amongst the Hindus. He had sixteen scholars, to each of whom a Sanhita or compendium is ascribed: none of the works attributed to them are now to be procured.
The chapters that next follow, relate a legendary story of the wife of a Gandherva named Malavati', the efficacy of various Mantras, the story of Nareda, the sage, and rules for the performance of daily purificatory and religious rites. The 28th and 29th chapters, the last of the book, are occupied with the description of Krishna, of his [p.221] peculiar heaven or Goloka, of the holy Rishi Narayana, and of his residence. The style and purport of the whole are peculiar to this Purana, and similar to the address of the deities, cited above. Goloka is said to be situated 500 millions of Yojanas above the Lokas of Siva and Vishnu. It is a sphere of light, tenanted by Gopas, Gopis, and cows; the only human persons admissible to its delights are pure Vaishnavas, the faithful votaries of Krishna. It appears, however, that the author of this Purana, who in all probability is the inventor of Goloka, had no very precise notions of his own work, as he calls it in one place square, and in another round; and whilst he is content in one passage to give it the moderate diameter of 30 millions of Yojanas, he extends its circumference in another to a thousand millions.
The next section of this Purana, is also of a peculiar character. It relates to Prakriti, the passive agent in creation, personified matter, or the goddess nature. The Puranas, in general, follow in regard to their cosmogony the Sankhya school of philosophy, in which Prakriti is thus described: Prakriti or Mula Prakriti is the root or plastic origin of all, termed Pradhana, the chief one, the universal material cause. It is eternal matter, undiscrete, undistinguishable as destitute of parts, inferrible from its effects, being productive, but no production.
According to the same system, the soul is termed Purush or Puman, which means man or male; but the Sankhya doctrine is twofold, one atheistical, the other theistical. The former defines the soul to be neither produced nor productive, not operating upon matter, but independent and co-existent; the latter identifies soul with Iswara, or God, who is infinite and eternal, and who rules over the world: and it is to this latter system, that the Puranas appertain, only in this Iswara they recognise the peculiar object of their devotion, whichever of the Hindu triad that may be, or even as in the work before us, superadding a fourth in Krishna, who is every where else regarded but as a manifestation of Vishnu, and in a remarkable passage of the Mahabharat is said to be no more than an Avatar of a hair plucked from the head of that divinity.
In the true spirit of mythology, which is fully as much poetical as religious, the figure of prosopopeia is carried by the Hindus to its utmost verge; and we need not wonder therefore to find spirit and matter converted by the Pauranic bards into male and female personifications, with the attributes adapted to either sex, or derived from the original source of either representation. Prakriti is consequently held to be not only the [p.222] productive agent in the creation of the world, but she is regarded as Maya, the goddess of delusion, the suggester of that mistaken estimate of human existence, which is referable to the gross perceptions of our elementary construction. With this character the Pauranics have combined another, and confounding the instrument with the action, matter with the impulse by which it was animated, they have chosen to consider Prakriti also as the embodied manifestation of the divine will, as the act of creation, or the inherent power of creating, co-existing with the supreme. This seems to be the ruling idea in the Brahma Vaivertta, in which the meaning of the word Prakriti, and the origin of this agent in creation, are thus explained:—
"The prefix Pra means pre-eminent, Kriti means creating; that goddess who was pre-eminent in creation, is termed Prakriti: again, Pra means best, or is equivalent to the term Satwa, the quality of purity, Kri implies middling, the quality of passion, and means worse or that of ignorance. She who is invested with all power is identifiable with the three properties, and is the principal in creation, and is therefore termed Prakriti. Pra also signifies first or foremost, and Kriti creation; she who was the beginning of creation, is called Prakriti."
"The supreme spirit in the act of creation became by Yoga twofold, the right side was male, the left was Prakriti. She is of one form with Brahme. She is Maya, eternal and imperishable. Such as the spirit, such is the inherent energy (the Sakti), as the faculty of burning is inherent in fire."
The idea of personifying the divine agency, being once conceived, was extended
by an obvious analogy to similar cases, and the persons of the Hindu triad,
being equally susceptible of active energies, their energies were embodied as
their respective Prakritis, Saktis, or goddesses. From them the like
accompaniment was conferred upon the whole pantheon, and finally upon man; women
being regarded as portions of the primeval Prakriti. The whole being evidently a
clumsy attempt to graft the distinction of the sexes as prevailing in earth,
hell, and heaven, upon a metaphysical theory of the origin of the universe.
The primeval Prakriti, according to our authority, which now becomes wholly mythological, resolved herself, by command of Krishna, into five primitive portions. These were Durga, the Sakti of Mahadeva; Lakshmi, the Sakti of Vishnu; Saraswati' the goddess of language; Savitri, the mother of the Vedas, and Radha, the favourite of Krishna.
In the same manner as the primary creator of the world multiplies his
appearances, and without losing any of his individual substance, occupies by
various emanations from it different frames, so the radical Prakriti exists in
different shapes, and in various proportions, distinguished as Ansas,
portions, Kalas, divisions, and Kalansas and Ansansas, or subdivisions, or
portions of portions. Thus Ganga, Tulasi, Manasa, Shasht'a, and Kali, are
Ansarupas, or forms having a portion of the original Prakriti; Swaha, Swadha,
Dakshina, Swasti, a host of virtues and vices, excellences and defects, and all
the wives of the inferior deities are Kalarupas, forms constituted of a minor
division of Prakriti; whilst all the female race are animated by her minuter
portions, or subdivisions, and they are virtuous or vicious, according as the
quality of goodness, passion, or ignorance, derived from their great original,
predominates, in the portion of which they are respectively constituted. Women
who go astray, therefore, have by this system, a better excuse than the stars.
The compiler of this Purana is very little scrupulous as to the consistency of his narrative, and assigns to the principal goddesses other origins than that which he gives in the beginning of the Brahma K'handa, or in the first chapter of this section. Thus Saraswati', who came out from the mouth of Krishna in the former, and in the latter, is said to be one of the five subdivisions of Prakriti, is now described as proceeding from the tongue of Radha; and Lakhsmi', who in one place is also a portion of Prakriti, and in another issues from the mind of Krishna, is described in this part of the work, as one of two goddesses, into which the first Saraswati was divided; the two being Saraswati' proper, and Kamala or Lakshmi'. These incoherencies are quite characteristic of this Purana, which from first to last is full of contradictory repetitions, as if the writer was determined to make a large book out of a few ideas, the precise nature of which he forgot as fast as he committed them to paper.
After this account of the origin of the principal female forms, the third chapter contains a more particular description of the sphere of Krishna or Goloka. It then repeats an account of the creation of the world, through the agency of Brahma; and the following chapters of the section, are devoted to legendary stories of the principal Prakritis, or Saraswati', Ganga, Tulasi, Savitri, Lakshmi, Swaha, Swadha, Dakshina, Shasht'ht', Mangala, Chandi', Manasa, Surabhi, Radhika and Durga. In the course of these narratives various others are introduced, illustrative of the characters of gods, saints, heroes, and heroines, all tending to show the fervour with which [p.224] they worshipped Krishna. Accounts of Goloka, a description of hell, and an explanation of the chronological system of the Puranas, are interwoven; besides other subjects of a peculiar and legendary nature, conveying little information or amusement.
The third section of the Brahma Vaivertta Purana is the Ganes'a K'handa, giving an account of the birth and actions of that deity, in a series of legends, which are not of frequent occurrence, and are in a great degree, if not altogether, peculiar to the work.
Parvati after her marriage with Siva, being without a child, and being desirous to obtain one, is desired by her husband to perform the Punyaka Vrata. This is the worship of Vishnu, to be begun on the thirteenth day of the bright fortnight of Magha, and continued for a year, on every day of which, flowers, fruits, cakes, vessels, gems, gold, &c. are to be presented, and a thousand Brahmans fed, and the performer of the rite is to observe most carefully a life of outward and inward purity, and to fix his mind on Hari or Vishnu. Parvati having with the aid of Sanatkumara, as directing priest, accomplished the ceremony on the banks of the Ganges, returns after some interval, in which she sees Krishna, first as a body of light, and afterwards as an old Brahmana, come to her dwelling. The reward of her religious zeal being delayed, she is plunged in grief, when a viewless voice tells her to go to her apartment where she will find a son, who is the lord of Goloka, or Krishna, that deity having assumed the semblance of her son, in recompence of her devotions.
In compliment to this occasion, all the gods came to congratulate Siva and Parvati, and were severally admitted to see the infant: amidst the splendid cohort was Sani, the planet Saturn; who although anxious to pay his homage to the child, kept his eyes stedfastly fixed on the ground. Parvati asking him the cause of this, he told her, that being immersed in meditation upon Vishnu, he had disregarded the caresses of his wife, and in resentment of his neglect, she had denounced upon him the curse that whomever he gazed upon he should destroy: to obviate the evil consequences of this imprecation he avoided looking any one in the face. Parvati having heard his story paid no regard to it, but considering, that what must be, must be, gave him permission to look at her son. Sani calling Dherma to witness his having leave, took a peep at Gane'sa, on which the child's head was severed from the body, and flew away to the heaven of Krishna, where it reunited with the substance of him, of whom it was part. Durga' taking the headless trunk in her arms, cast herself, weeping [p.225] on the ground, and the gods thought it decent to imitate her example, all except Vishnu, who mounted Garura, and flew off to the river Pushpabhadra', where finding an elephant asleep he took off his head, and flying back with it, clapped it on the body of Gane'sa; hence the body of that deity is crowned with its present uncouth capital. On the restoration of Gane'sa to life, valuable gifts were made to the gods and brahmans, by the parents, and by Parvati's father, the personified Himalaya. The unfortunate Sani was again anathematised, and in consequence of the curse of Parvati, has limped ever since.
These legends and others of minor importance, with the various prayers and addresses of the deities, occupy the first 13 chapters. The next five give an account of the birth of Kartikeya. In the 19th and 21st chapters the reason why Gane'sa's head was lopped off is given. Siva offended with Aditya, the sun, slew him, and although he restored him to life, incurred the wrath of the sage Ka'syapa, who doomed his (Siva's) son to lose his head. The elephant was Indra's elephant, and was decapitated because Indra threw over his neck the garland of flowers, which the sage Durvasas gave him, and the disrespect of which, with the consequent degradation of Indra, is noticed in various Puranas, although in all other respects with different results. Indra was no loser of an elephant by his decapitation, as Vishnu, moved by the prayers of his mate, gave him another head in place of that which he took away. The humiliation of Indra, and his recovery of Lakshmi' or glory, are the subjects of the next five chapters, and the remaining half of this section is occupied with the story of Gane'sa's losing one of his tusks. It was broken off by Parasurama, and the occurrence therefore involves his history, and that of his ancestor Bhrigu, the possession of the all-bestowing cow by Jamadagni, the attempt to carry her off by the king Kartavirya'rjuna; the conflict that ensued, and the death of the sage; Parasurama's avenging his father's loss, by slaying Kartaviryarjuna; his combats with the kings, who came to the aid of that prince; and the destruction of the military race.
After this last exploit, Parasurama, who was a favourite disciple of Siva, went to Kaila'sa to visit his master; on arriving at the inner apartments, his entrance was opposed by Gane'sa, as his father was asleep. Parasurama nevertheless urged his way, and after a long and absurd dialogue, in which devotion to Krishna is most abruptly and diffusely introduced, the parties came to blows. Gane'sa had at first the advantage, seizing Parasura'ma in his trunk, and giving him [p.226] a twirl that left him sick and senseless; on recovering, Rama threw his axe at Gane'sa, who recognizing it as his father's weapon (Siva having given it to Parasurama), received it with all humility upon one of his tusks, which it immediately severed, and hence Gane'sa has but one tusk, and is known by the names Ekadanta and Ekadantashtra (the single-tusked.) Parvati was highly incensed with Parasurama, and was about to curse him, when Krishna, of whom he was the worshipper, appeared as a boy and appeased her indignation. This part of the work ends with a recapitulation of the names of Gane'sa, his quarrel with Tulasi, in consequence of an imprecation from whom it was, that he lost one of his tusks; Parasurama's adoration of him, and retiring to lead an ascetic life. The last section, the Krishna Janma K'handa, is very voluminous, containing 132 chapters. It gives an account of Krishna's birth and adventures, as narrated by Narayana to Nare'da.
The narrative is introduced by a panegyric of the individual, who is a real Vaishnava, or thoroughly devoted to Krishna: and who consequently becomes endowed with all knowledge and virtue, acquires superhuman faculties on earth, is elevated to the region of Krishna after death, and liberates himself, and seven generations above and below him, from the penalty of regeneration. All crimes avoid him, or are consumed in his purity, like moths in a lamp; and any one meeting him on the road, is thereby cleansed of the sins he may have contracted for seven preceding lives; no course of religious practices, or devout penances is necessary to the attainment of such miraculous excellence, and the love of Hari or Krishna is the only condition required. He who has received the initiatory mantra, who repeats the name of that divinity constantly, who transfers to him every worldly desire and possession, whose thoughts ever dwell upon him in prosperity or distress, and the hair of whose body stands erect with rapture on his simply hearing any of the appellations of Krishna articulated, has fulfilled every obligation, and merits the designation of a Vaishnava.
According to this Purana, and this only, the original cause of Krishna's incarnation, was his love of Ra'dha. The Radha of the Goloka had been compelled to assume a mortal body, by the imprecation of a Gopa of that region, Kridama, the minister of his master's pleasures, and the object of Radha's anger. Him she condemned in a fit of jealous indignation to become the Asura Sankhachu'ra, and he in retaliation sentenced her to become a nymph of Vrindavan. To console her in this condition Krishna also came down to this world, [p.227] as her lover; at the same time, however, granting the prayers of Brahma and the gods, who solicited his appearance to relieve the earth from the burthen of the iniquities under which she laboured, the legitimate purpose of every descent or Avatara. In order to provide Krishna and Radha with suitable associates, all the gods and goddesses also assumed their respective characters as Gopas and Gopis, or members of the family of Yadu, and the heroes of the Mahabharat. Vasudeva, the father of Krishna, was an incarnation of Kasyapa, and De'vaki, his mother, of Aditi. Nanda was an incarnation of one of the Yasus, and Yasoda of his spouse Dhara. Durga was incarnate as the daughter of the bear Jambavan. Jambavaiti one of Krishna's brides, and Lakshmi', multiplied herself into the sixteen thousand princesses, whom Krishna enumerated amongst his wives.
The story of Vasudeva and De'vaki, and the birth of Krishna are narrated in the usual manner, which gives occasion to directions for the celebration of the Janmashthami, or festival in commemoration of the birth-day of Krishna on the 8th lunation of the month Sravan, and the Purana authorises its observance agreeably to the practice of the Saktas, which allows it to be independent of the moon's entering into the asterism Rohim, although should the position of the moon and the lunation occur together, the festival is the more holy, and is termed Jayanti or triumphant. The festival is on no account to commence on that day, in which a part of the 7th lunation may occur. The variety of doctrine and observance on this head is explained in the Asiatic Researches (vol. xvi. page 92, note.) To omit the observance altogether is a crime not to be expiated, and is equal in atrocity to the murder of a hundred brahmans.
The infant exploits of Krishna are next related, and require no particular comment. Garga, the Muni, points out Radha, the daughter of Vrishabua'nu, as an eligible bride for the youth, and acquaints Nanda, Krishna's foster father, of the secret of her divinity, in which he thus expounds her name.
"The letter R preserves persons from sin, the vowel A obviates regeneration, D'A shortens the period of mortal existence, and the second long vowel sunders all worldly bonds." The marriage was accordingly celebrated with great rejoicing, and the distribution of viands in large quantities, and the donation of immense treasures. The incompatibility of such profusion, with the condition of Nanda, the cowherd, is of no consideration to the author of this work, although it [p.228] has saved the author of the Bha'gavat, the original of the greater part of the story, from any such gross extravagancies.
The hero of the festivities, steals the curds in the next chapter, for which he is tied to a tree, and gets a whipping from his foster mother Yasoda. After she leaves him, the tree falls, and from it emerges Nalakuvera, the son of Kuvera, condemned to this metamorphosis, for indecent behaviour in the presence of Devala (or Galava) Muni.
A long chapter is next occupied with the praises of Ra'dha' by Krishna and Brahma', which inculcate her supremacy over all other divinities, male or female, and her being inseparable from and one with Krishna. The sports of the juvenile god are then related, and his destruction of the demons Vaka, Kesi, and Pralamba; the construction of palaces at Gokula, for all its inhabitants, by Viswakerma', the divine architect, of whose architectural exploits, the village of Gokula now offers no vestiges. This part of the work comprises the history of Vrishabhanu, and his wife Kala'vati, the parents of Radha, and who were rewarded by her birth, for the virtues of their former existence, as Suchandra, a king of the family of Menu, and Kala'vati, a well-born daughter of the Pitris or progenitors of mankind. This story includes a dissertation upon the virtues of women.
Several chapters follow, partly describing the actions of Krishna, and partly expatiating upon his excellencies and those of Radha.
A legend of Sahasika, the son of the son of Bali, follows, who was turned into an ass, by the curse of Durvasas, for having disturbed the meditation of that sage, in the prosecution of his amours with Tilottama, a nymph of heaven. On the penitence of the couple, Durvasas announced to them, that the ass should be destroyed by the discus of Krishna, in consequence of which, the spirit of Sahasika should receive final emancipation, and that Tilottama should be born the daughter of Banasura, in which capacity, she should become the bride of Aniruddha, the grandson of Krishna.
The marriage of Durvasas with Kadali, the daughter of Aurva Muni, is the next legend; in this, the violent temper of his wife excites the sage's wrath, and he reduces her to ashes. Repenting subsequently of his anger, and soothed by the appearance of Brahma, he changes the remains of his wife into a plantain tree. The same sage is the subject of another legend of great celebrity amongst the Vaishnavas, as illustrating Krishna's superiority over Siva. Durvasas, a votary of that deity, being offended with Ambari'sha a devout worshipper of Vishnu, attempted to destroy him, but was repelled, and narrowly [p.229] escaped destruction himself by the Chakra or discus of Vishnu, which came to the assistance of the king. The merits of fasting on the eleventh day of the fortnight, are the subject of the next chapter, and they are followed by an explanation of the eight names of Durga which again is relieved by a story of Krishna, carrying away and hiding the clothes of the nymphs of Gokula, whilst they were bathing in the Jumna. He gives up his booty upon being prayed to by Radha, in the usual strain, eulogising his divine supremacy, and identification with all things known or unknown. Several legends of minor importance follow, to the 32nd chapter, when that, and the two following, are occupied with the advances made by Mohini, a heavenly nymph to Brahma, and his insensibility, in resentment of which she curses him, that he shall not receive any adoration from mankind; the effects of which malediction are said to be evinced in the neglect which Brahma experienced from the professors of the Hindu faith.
The attention of the work is next directed, through a series of chapters, to the legends of the Saiva faith, or Brahma's discomfiture by Siva, the asceticism of the latter, his marriage with Sati, the daughter of Daksha, her burning herself, and Siva's second marriage with Parvati the daughter of Himalaya. Stories of Vrishaspati, Indra, Vahni, Durvasas, and Dhanwantari then follow. All these legends are supposed to be narrated by Krishna to Radha, for her entertainment; and their general purport is to shew, that the personages to whom they refer, are immeasurably inferior to Krishna, and his votaries.
Some cases are then recorded of the humiliation of the leading personages of the Hindu Pantheon, in consequence of their incurring the displeasure of Krishna or some of his followers. Vishnu, whilst boasting himself the god of all, was swallowed by Krishna in the form of a Bhairava, all but his head, and was restored to his form, on recovering his senses. Brahma, whilst making a similar vaunt, was surprised to behold multitudes of Brahmas and Brahmanas, or creations distinct from himself and his works; and Siva was condemned to pay the penalty of his pride, by his marriage with Sati, and distraction for her loss, which were the delusions of Krishna.
The 62nd chapter contains a summary account of Ramachandra, and the next ten proceed with an account of the transactions that immediately preceded Krishna's departure from Vrinda'van for Mathura', whether he was attracted, with his supposed father Nanda, by a special invitation from Kansa, his uncle, with a view to his destruction, at a sacrifice offered to Siva. The result of this visit is the death of Kansa, as described in other Puranas; but there is no detail of the [p.230] previous wrestling, which occurs in the Bhagavat. On taking final leave of his foster father Nanda, Krishna favours him with a code of regulations, for his moral and religious conduct: he is not to look at a single star, nor the setting sun or moon; not to keep company with the wicked, nor to injure or insult Brahmans, cows, and Vaishnavas; not to delay payment of the due fees to the priest who officiates at a ceremony; not to eat flesh or fish; not to vilify Siva, Durga, or Ganapati; and on no account to omit every possible demonstration of his love for Hari. These injunctions extend to a great length, and are all of as little importance as the above. There are some curious denunciations, however, against acts which are lawful in the institutes of Menu; and no distinction is here made between a Brahman who follows the profession of arms, and one who marries a woman of the Sudra caste. There is also a singular leaning shown to the Saiva faith, and the man who forms a single Siva-linga of clay, is said to reside in heaven for 100 Kalpas. The following scale is given of Krishna's affections: "Of all tribes the Brahman is most esteemed by me, Lakshmi' is still more beloved than a Brahman, Radha' is dearer to me than Lakshmi', a faithful worshipper is dearer than Radha, and Sankara is the best beloved of all." The instructions to Nanda comprise also a dissertation upon dreams, upon knowledge of the divine nature, and on the duties of the different castes and orders of the Hindus, on the duties of women, and the expiation of offences. This division of the work extends from the 75th to the 85th chapter.
A legend of the birth of Vrinda, the daughter of Kedara, next follows: from her, Vrindavan, or as usually termed Bindraban, derives its appellation, she being identified with Radha in her birth at that place. This chapter is followed by several others of a very miscellaneous character, in which Brahma, Siva, and the Munis eulogise Krishna's power. The next sections are occupied with the mission of Uddhava from Krishna to Gokula, to bear intelligence of the latter to his parents and his mistresses; and we have then a short detail of the usual Pauranik chronology: Uddhava returns to Krishna, and we have then a narrative of Krishna's being invested with the thread of his tribe; he then prosecutes his studies under Sandi'pani Muni, and at their close relinquishes the garb of a cowherd for the robes of a king, presenting to his Guru four lacs of diamonds, an equal number of other sorts of gems, five lacs of pearls, a necklace worn by Durga, dresses worth all the treasures of the world, and ten crores of Suvarnds, or certain measures of gold:—puerile exaggerations, which although not [p.231] unknown to the other Puranas, are most lavishly multiplied in the work under review.
Although assuming a royal character, this work describes Krishna as resigning the supremacy to Ugrase'na, and directing Dwaraka to be built for him, by the divine architect Viswase'na—a wide departure from the account every where else given of the circumstances, under which Dwaraka became the capital of Krishna. He having been driven from Mathura by Jarasandha, the father-in-law of Kansa, whom Krishna had deposed and slain; Krishna and his tribe, on their expulsion from Mathura, fled to the west coast of the peninsula, and there founded a new city. No notice whatever is taken of these revolutions in this work, although they are told at some length, in the Mahabharat, Vishnu Purana, and Bhagavat. In a subsequent chapter indeed, this Purana refers to the same events, although it does not particularise them; and Rukmi the brother of Rukmini' reproaches Krishna with having fled to Dwaraka through fear of Jarasandha.
Krishna's marriage with Rukmini' is next narrated, but he does not carry her off, as in other authorities. Her brother opposes his entrance into the city, but is defeated by Baladeva, and then Krishna enters, and is duly married to the princess in her father's presence. Every where else, he runs away with her before the marriage, and Baladeva checks the pursuit.
In the next chapters, a conversation between Radha and Yasoda, expounds the purport of eleven names of Krishna, and these are succeeded by an account of the birth of Rukmini"s son Pradyumna, his being carried off by a demon, and his recovery, the birth of other sons of Kkishna, and marriage of the sage Durvasas to a daughter of Ugrase'na. Krishna's share in the war of the Mahabharat is very briefly dispatched, except a long hymn to him by Sisupala, whom he slew. The intrigue of Aniruddha, Krishna's grandson, with Usha, the daughter of Vana, is narrated at some length, in the usual style, and the unsuccessful contest waged by that prince against Krishna is protracted by the episodical insertion of a variety of stale legends, to a disproportionate extent; these stories are related alternately by Aniruddha and Vana, as they stand prepared to engage in single combat for the purpose of proclaiming the respective might of Krishna and Siva, Vana being devoted to the worship of the latter divinity. Siva however, after vainly attempting to dissuade him from the conflict, is obliged to witness his votary's defeat, with that of Skanda [p.232] and Bhadrakali, who had gone to his succour; and Vana becoming sensible of Krishna's supremacy, consents to his daughter's union with Aniruddha.
The next chapters relate to the origin of the Bindusdra Tirtha, from the tears of Krishna; the reason why it is sinful to look at the moon on the 4th day of Bhadra, and Satrajit's obtaining that gem, whose presence in a country insures its fertility. The adoration of Gane'sa by Radha, in the presence of the assembled deities, is the subject of the 122nd and 123rd chapters, and as acknowledged in the text, is one rarely treated of in other Puranas. Gane'sa, not to be outdone, eulogises Radha in his turn, and is followed by Brahma and Ananta. The worship of Gane'sa by Radha marked the termination of the curse, which had sentenced her to a mortal existence; and she was then restored to her celestial nature, in which Durga is made to declare that there is no difference between Radha and herself, and whoever speaks in a depreciating manner of either, is equally punished in hell.
Krishna, having also offered worship to Gane'sa, returns to Dwaraka and resumes his lessons to Nanda and his family; he also prophesies the depravity of the world in the succeeding or Kali age, in which men will abstain from venerating Salagram stones and Tulasi plants, and attach themselves assiduously to the service of Mlechhas, barbarians and outcastes, who it is said also, shall become the rulers of the country:—expressions indicative of the prevalence of the Mohammedan authority, when the Purana was compiled.
Radha after this returns to Goloka. with all the Gopas and Gopis of divine origin, Krishna creating others to supply their place at Vrindavan. The circumstances of Krishna's death, by a wound from a hunter, the destruction of his tribe, and the submersion of Dwaraka by the sea, are next alluded to, in so brief and obscure a manner, that without a previous knowledge of what is intended the notice would be quite unintelligible; and these events are lost sight of amidst the much more detailed addresses of the gods and goddesses, the ocean, the rivers, and particularly the Ganges, in which the sufferings of the earth, in consequence of Krishna's departure, are most pathetically lamented. After Krishna's death, the form that proceeded from his person, went to the Sweta Dwipa, where it became two: one-half was Narayana, the lord of Vaikuntha; the other was Krishna, the deity of Goloka, the supreme indescribable source of all, who ascended to his original seat, and was reunited to Radha.
The Purana properly closes here, at the end of the 128th chapter; but Nareda,
who has been its auditor, now hears from the narrator Narayana, that he, Nakeda,
was in his former life, a Gandharva, the husband of 50 wives, one of whom is
reborn, as well as himself, and by the boon of Siva, is to be once more his
bride. Nareda submits rather reluctantly, and shortly after his marriage with
the daughter of Skinjaya, who is declared to be one with Maya, run away from
his wife to perform penance, through which he is united with Ham.
A supplementary chapter, the 130th, follows, in which Su'ta, the ordinary narrator or recapitulator of the Puranas, relates two legends, explaining the birth of Fire from Brahma, and of gold from Fire. Chapter 131 is a short index to the Puranas. The last chapter, 132, enumerates the different Puranas and Upapuranas, the five works called Panchardtra, and the five Sanhitas or compendia of the Vaishnava faith. It is also remarkable for its definition of the Mahabharat, and the Ramayana, the former of which it terms a Itihdsa, or history, and the latter a Kavya, or poem: the work terminates with a eulogium on itself; the attentively hearing of one quarter of averse of which, is equal in merit to the gift of the heaven of Krishna.
The preceding sketch of the contents and character of this work will probably have furnished sufficient evidence of its modern origin. It is clearly subsequent to the great body of Hindu literature, not only by the enumeration just noticed, but by reference to the several philosophical systems, the Terka, Vaisheshika, Sankhya, Patcuijala, Memansa, and Vedanta, which occurs in a preceding passage. Its being the latest of the Puranas is also apparent from its own avowal of its being intended to clear up the discrepancies observable in those works, and by the frequent assertion, that the legends it gives, particularly those respecting Gane'sa, are not to be met with in the other Puranas. That it was compiled subsequent to the Mohammedan invasion, is very probable, from the allusions it contains to the supremacy of Mlechha rulers; and the particular branch of the Hindu system which it advocates, renders it likely to have emanated from a sect, which there is reason to imagine originated about four centuries ago with Vallabhacharya and the Gosains of Gokula.