Feb 23, 2011

3rd section

The Manvantaras

The manvantara is a cycle of creation and destruction. A Manu rules over each such manvantara. There have been six manvantaras till now and the names of the respective Manus were Svayambhuva, Svarochasha, Outtami, Tamasa, Raivata and Chakshusha. Vaivasvata, the son of the sun, rules over the present and seventh manvantara. Each manvantara has its own gods and rishis. The gods of the present manvantara are the adityas, the vasus and the rudra and Purandara holds the title of Indra, the king of the gods. The names of the seven rishis of the present manvantara are Vashistha, Kashyapa, Atri, Jamadagni, Goutama, Vishvamitra and Bharadvaja.

These were the seven manvantaras that have passed. But there are seven manvantaras yet to come.

Vishvakarma had a daughter named Samjna who was married to Surya, the sun. Their children were called Manu, Yama and Yami. After some time, Samjna found that she could no longer bear the energy of her husband. So she created a woman known as Chhaya who looked exactly like her. She left Chhaya to look after her husband and went off to meditate in a forest. Surya did not know that this was Chhaya and not Samjna. Surya and Chhaya had two sons called Shanaishchara and Savarni Manu and a daughter called Tapati.

One day, for some reason, Chhaya became very angry and cursed yama. Both Yama and Surya then understood that this woman could not be Yama’s mother Samjna and must be someone else. Chhaya told them what had happened. And Surya learnt that Samnjna was performing tapasya in a forest in the form of a mare. Surya himself adopted the form of a horse and joined his wife. As horses, they had three sons, the two Ashvinis and Revanata.

Surya wanted to bring Samjna back to his home. The problem however was Surya’s energy, which Samjna could not stand. Therefore, Vishvakarma sliced off Surya’s energy and the sliced off part fell on the earth. With this energy Vishvakarma made Vishnu’s chakra, Rudra’s trishula, Kubera’s palanquin, Kartikeya’s spear and other weapons of the other gods.

As mentioned earlier, Surya and Chhaya had a son called Savarni Manu. This would be the Manu in the eighth manvantara and Indra would then be Vali, the son of Virochana. The ninth Manu would be Dakshasavarni, the tenth Brahmasavarni, the eleventh Dharmasavarni, the twelfth Savarna, the thirteenth Rouchya and the fourteenth Bhoutya. At the end of each four cycle of yugas, the Vedas are destroyed and in each satya yuga, the respective Manu rewrites the sacred shastras. In each manvantara, Manu, the seven rishis, Indra the gods and the kings are created afresh. Fourteen manvantaras make a kalpa comes Brahma’s night. During that night, Vishnu in his form of Brahma sleeps on the waters that are everywhere.


In each age, Vishnu in his form of Vedavyasa, divided the Vedas. In every dvapara yuga, this is done. The present manvantara is the Vaivasvata manvantara and in this manvantara, the Vedas have already been divided twenty-eight times. The names of these twenty-eight Vedavyases were Svayambhu, Prajapati, Ushana, Brihaspati, Savita, Mrityu, Indra, Vashishtha, Sarasvata, Tridhama, Trivrisha, Bharadvaja, Antariksha, Vapri, Trayaruna, Dhananjaya, Kritanjaya, Rinajya, Bharadvaja, Goutama, Haryatma, Vena, Trinavindu, Riksha, Shaktri, Parashara, Jatukarna and Krishna Dvaipayana. The Vishnu Purana says that the next Vedavyasa will be Drona’s son Ashvatthama. As you may know from the Mahabharata, Ashvatthama is immortal.

The essence of brahman and the four Vedas is captured in the word Om. Brahman is everywhere, but appears to different people in different forms.

The four Vedas, Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva, together have one lakh shlokas. It is from the Vedas that the ten famous sacrifices (yajnas) originate. When Krishna Dvaipayana Vedavyasa sought to divide the four Vedas, he first gathered around him four disciples who were learned in the Vedas. Paila was taught the Rig Veda, Vaisham-payana the Yajur Veda, Jaimini the Sama Veda and Sumantu the Atharva Veda. Krishna Dvaipayana taught the Puranas to his discipline Romaharshana.


Once upon a time, the famous rishis decided that they would have a gathering. They also decided that whoever did not come to this gathering, would after a period of seven days commit the crime of killing a brahmana. All the sages came to this gathering, but Vaishampayana did not. After seven days, Vaishampayana stepped on his nephew and killed him by mistake. This was a terrible sin and had to be atoned for.

Vaishampayna had divided the Yajur Veda into twenty-seven parts and had distributed these parts among various disciples. One of these disciples was Yajnavalka. Vaishampayana called his disciples together and said, “I have committed the crime of killing a brahmana. Please arrange for a sacrifice so that I might atone for this sin.”

On hearing this Yajnavalka said, “There is no need to bother about these other disciplines. They do not have much power. I will arrange for the sacrifice myself.”

This made Vaishampayana angry. “You have insulted the other disciples, Yajnavalka,” he said. “Return to me hwat I have taught you. I do not need a disciple like you.”

Yajnavalka replied,”I said what I did because I respected you. But since you have misunderstood, I too do not require a teacher like you. Here is what I have learnt. I am returning it.”

Yajnavalka then vomited out the Yajur Veda and the other disciplines ate it up in the form of birds. That is why this branch of the Yajur Veda is called the Taittiriya after the name of the bird Tittira.

But Yajnavalka still wanted to learn the Yajur Veda. So he began to pray to the sun. The sun finally appeared to him in the form of a horse and taught him those branches of the Yajur Veda which even Vaishampayana did not know.

The Puranas

Now the Vishnu Purana describes what the Puranas are and how they came to written. It says that the original text Purana Samhita was taught by Vedavyasa to his disciple Romaharshana (also called Lomaharshana). Romaharshana had six disciples, Sumati, Agnivarchah, Mitrayu, Shamshapayana, Akritavrana and Savarni. Each of these disciples composed a Purana on the basis of the Purana Samhita. It was on the basis of these that the Vishnu Purana had written. It was written after the Padma Purana and is devoted to the glory of Lord Vishnu.

There are fourteen types of knowledge (vidya). These are the four Vedas, the six Vedangas, Mimamasa, Nyaya, the Puranas and the Dharmashastras. To this one might add four further forms of knowledge, Ayurveda, Dhanurveda, music and Arthashastra. There are three types of rishis, brahmarshis, devarshis and rajarshis.


When people die, they come under the control of Yama and Yama sends them to different narakas. When they have atoned for their sins, they are reborn. Maitreya wanted to know if there was any way in which men could avoid going to Yama after death.

Parashara told him that Nakula had asked the same question of his grandfather Bhishma. And Bhishma had told him that he used to have a brahmana friend from Kalinga. This friend had learned words of wisdom from a jatismara sage. The sage had told Bhishma’s friend of a conversation that had once taken place between Yama and Yama’s servant.

Yama told his servant, “Do not touch those who are devoted to Vishnu. I am the lord of all the others except these. I am not really independent, I work under the supervision of Vishnu. He is also capable of punishing me. Even the gods worship the lotus-like feet of Vishnu. Stay away from the devotees of Vishnu.”

“How does one become a devotee of Vishnu?” asked the servant.

Yama replied, “Those who do not deviate from what is laid down from their class, those who make no distinction between friends and enemies, those who are thieves, those who are non-violent and those whose hearts are pure and free of anger, these are the devotees of Vishnu. They think of Vishnu all the time. And because they think of Vishnu all the time, they are of pleasing appearance. When Vishnu is in one’s heart, one commits no sins. Do not go near such people. For the strength of Vishnu’s chakra is such that your or mine powers would immediately be destroyed.”

The Four Classes and the Four Stages

The most important way of following Vishnu is to follow the law of the four classes (varna) and the law of the four stages (ashrama) as laid down in the shastras (sacred texts)

The four classes are brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras. It is the duty of the brahmana to give alms, worship the gods through sacrifices and study the Vedas. They should treat all living beings well and not harm anyone. The most important wealth a brahmana can have is the friendship of others. A kshatriya should donate to brahmanas, study and perform sacrifices to Vishnu. But his most important duty is to bear arms to protect the earth. The king’s duties are to punish the evil and protect the good. The vaishyas are to do animal husbandry, trade and agriculture. In addition, they should study, donate alms and perform sacrifices. The shudra’s duty is to serve the other classes. If it is impossible to make a living through this, the shudra may make a living through trade or handicrafts.

Common duties of all four classes are kindliness, cleanliness, hard work, truthfulness, friendship and the capacity to bear hardship. If for some reason a brahmana cannot make a living through the methods that have been laid down, he can take up arms and perform the duties of kshatriya. Or he can take up agriculture, animal husbandry or trade. A kshatriya can also take up agriculture, animal husbandry or trade. But a brahmana or a kshatriya should never take up the duties of a shudra. This is permitted only in times of great danger or if there is absolutely no other way out. Everyone should ensure that the duties of the four classes do not get mixed up.

The first of the ashramas is brahmacharya (celibate studenthood). After he has been invested with his sacred thread, a son should be sent to his teacher’s house to learn the Vedas. There he will lead a clean life and pay attention to the rituals. He will serve his guru and study the Vedas. In the morning and the evening he will pray to the sun and the fire and bow to his teacher after the prayers are over. The disciple (shishya) will sit only after the guru sits, he will walk only after the guru walks. He will never oppose his guru. When the guru asks him to, he will sit down and study the Vedas. Every morning, the shishya will bring water and flowers for his guru. Eventually, the shishya will have learnt the Vedas and attained knowledge. He will then pay the guru the price of the knowledge (dakshina), take the guru’s permission and prepare to step into the next ashrama, that of garhasthya (householder stage).

This is the time to get married and choose a proper living. Such a person has to serve gods through sacrifices, guests through food, rishis through reading the Vedas, Brahma through having children and the entire world through truthfulness. In many ways, a garhasthya ashrama is superior to the others. The brahmanas and those who follow brahmacharya may have to through alms. It is the person in garhasthya ashrama who provides them this. When guests arrive, the householder will offer whatever he can in the nature of food, seats and beds. If a guest goes away dissatisfied, he takes away the householder’s punya (store of merits) and leaves his sins with the householder. A guest is never to be refused.

After a person has lived a full life as a householder, he may proceed to the forest-dweller stage, vanaprastha. He can take his wife with him or leave her in the care of his son. He will live in the forest on fruits and roots and leaves, he will sleep on the ground and he will not cut his hair or shave his beard. He will worship the gods, tend to guests and give alms to those who need them. His main duty is meditation.

The final ashrama is that of sannyasa. A person is ready to enter this when he can give up his sons, wife and all material possessions. To him all living beings will be friends and he will not harm any living being. He will live alone and perform yoga (excerises that unite man with God). He will never stay in a village more than one night at the time and in a city for more than five nights at a time. A sannyasi or hermit will beg for his food. But he will come to a house for alms only after he is sure that everyone in the house has eaten.


There are some rituals to be followed when a son is born and some others to be followed when a funeral cermony (shraddha) is to be held. The father gives a name to the son after the tenth day of birth. There are eight types of marriage. Their names are Brahman, Daivya, Arsha, Prajapatya, Asura, Gandharva, Rakshasa and Paishacha. For each varna or class, specific forms of marriage are prescribed.

There are some rituals that are laid down for a householder. Every day he must worship gods, cows, brahmanas, sages and elderly teachers. He should never steal, never lie and never utter what is unpleasant to others’ faults. He should not be envious of other people’s property. Nor should he associate himself with those who are evil. He should never enter a burning house or climb to the very top of a tree. He should cover his mouth when yawning. He should be careful of stepping on the shadows of gods and flags and those who should be worshipped. One should not live in a house alone, nor should one go to a forest alone. One should avoid going near wild beasts.

A good householder does not leave his house before bowing to a religious object, a flower, a jewel, clarified butter or a respected person. When he travels at night or goes to a forest, he carries a stick in his hand. He always wears sandals and uses an umbrella when it rains or when the sun is out. He is a friend to all beings. He always tells the truth. But when the truth harms other people, he keeps quiet.

Several rituals have to be followed when a son or daughter gets married, when a new house is to be entered, when a son is to be named or when a new-born baby is to be first seen.

When someone dies, the dead body is to be bathed and garlanded. The dead body must always be burnt outside the village. For a brahmana the shraddha ceremony takes place after ten days, for a kshatriya after twelve days, for a vaishya after fifteen days and for a shudra after a month. At a funeral ceremony an odd number of brahmanas must be fed. If ordinary food is given to brahmanas at a funeral, the ancestors remain satisfied for a month. But they are satisfied for two months if fish is given, for three months if rabbit is given. For four months in the case of the meat of birds, for five months with pork, for six months with mutton, for seven months with venison, for eight months if a special sort of deer meat is given, for nine months with gayal meat, for ten months with lamb, for eleven months with beef, and forever with the meat of a vardhinasa bird. The best place to perform a shraddha is Gaya.


Many years ago there was a war between the devas and the asuras that lasted for a year. At the end of the war, some daityas named Hrada defeated the devas. The devas fled to the northern shores of an ocean and there began to pray to Vishnu. Vishnu appeared before the devas and created for them a being called Mayamoha out of his own body. Led by Mayamoha, the devas went to fight with the asuras.

The asuras were performing tapasya on the banks of the river Narmada. Mayamoha appeared before them dressed in leaves and with a shaven head. He told them that the best way to attain what the asuras desired was through the religion preached by Mayamoha. The asuras were persuaded by Mayamoha to leave the path of the Vedas. The asuras who adopted this new religion came to be known as arhats. They began to criticize the Vedas and the devas. Others criticized yajnas and brahmanas.

The asuras were thus dislodged from the righteous path and the devas attacked them afresh. This time the devas could defeat the asuras, since the asuras had lost the power of their religion.

Shatadhanu and Shaivya

Many years ago there used to be a king known as Shatadhanu. His wife Shaivya was a religious woman. Together, they used to pray to Vishnu, on the banks of the river Bhagirathi. They were not interested in other things. One day a fraudulent teacher came to them. Shatadhanu spoke to this person, but Shaivya did not. Some years later, Shatadhanu died and Shaivya also died with him on the funeral pyre.

Because he had spoken to the false teacher, Shatadhanu was born as a dog in his next life. And Shaivya was born as a jatismara daughter to the king of Kashi. When the king of Kashi wished to get his daughter married off, Shaivya refused. She had learnt that her husband had been born as a dog and was living in the city of Visisha. So she went there and met the dog. She gave it good food to eat. The dog merely wagged its tail. At this, Shaivya felt ashamed and tried to remind the dog of its earlier life.

Finally the dog did remember its earlier life and this made it very sad. It left the city and climbed a mountain peak. From there it threw itself down on the desert and died. This time it was born as a jackal and again Shaivya met the jackal in the mountain named Kolahal. She reminded the jackal of its earlier life. Thus reminded, the jackal died in the forest and was born as a wolf. Shaivya met the wolf and and reminded it of its earlier life. When the wolf died, it was born as a vulture. Shaivya went to meet it. This time, after the death of the vulture, Shatadhanu was born as a crow. The crow was next born as a peacock. Shaivya made friends with the peacock.

King Janaka was performing an ashvamedha sacrifice. The peacock had a bath at the time of the sacrifice. When Shaivya reminded the peacock of its earlier life, it died. It was now born as the son of Janaka and Shaivya agreed to marry him. After Janaka died, his son became the ruler of the kingdom of Videha. In this life Shatadhanu performed many sacrifices and gave many alms. He had several sons and ruled the kingdom and the earth well. When he died, Shaivya again died on the funeral pyre with him. Husband and wife went to heaven.

The story illustrates the evils of speaking to fraudulent people who have given up the Vedas. One goes straight to naraka if one mixes with such people.

This is the end of the third section of the Vishnu Purana.

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