Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic, by W.J. Wilkins, , at sacred-texts.com
The general opinion respecting Dyaus (Heaven) and Prithivi (Earth) is that they are amongst the most ancient of the Aryan deities, hence they are spoken of in the hymns of the Rig-Veda as the parents of the other gods. * They are described as "great, wise and energetic;" those who "promote righteousness, and lavish gifts upon their worshippers." And in another place they are said to have "made all creatures," and through their favour "immortality is conferred upon their offspring." Not only are they the creators, but also the preservers of all creatures; and are beneficent and kind to all. In other passages Heaven and Earth are said to have been formed by Indra, who is declared to transcend them in greatness, whom they follow "as a chariot follows the horse." They are described as bowing down before him; as trembling with fear on account of him; and as being subject to his control. Again, they are said to have been formed by Soma; and in other verses other deities are said to have made them. This confusion of thought respecting the origin of the gods led very naturally to the question being asked in other hymns, "How have they been produced? Who of the sages knows?"
There seems to be considerable ground for the opinion that Indra gradually superseded Dyaus in the worship of the Hindus soon after their settlement in India. As the praises of the newer god were sung, the older one was forgotten; and in the present day, whilst Dyaus is almost unknown, Indra is still worshipped, though in the Vedas both are called the god of heaven. The following statement of Professor Benfey * gives a natural explanation of this. "It may be distinctly shown that Indra took the place of the god of heaven, who, in the Vedas, is invoked in the vocative as Dyauspitar (Heaven-father). This is proved by the fact that this phrase is exactly reflected in the Latin Jupiter, and the Greek Zeū-pater as a religious formula, fixed, like many others, before the separation of the languages. When the Sanskrit people left the common country, where for them, as well as for other kindred tribes, the brilliant radiance of heaven appeared to them, in consequence of the climate there prevailing, as the holiest thing, and settled in sultry India, where the glow of the heavens is destructive, and only its rain operates beneficially, this aspect of the Deity must have appeared the most adorable, so that the epithet Pluvius, in a certain sense, absorbed all the other characteristics of Dyauspitar. This found its expression in the name In-dra, in which we unhesitatingly recognize a word (which arose in some local dialect, and was then diffused with the spread of the worship) standing for Sind-ra, which again was derived from Syand, 'to drop.' The conceptions which had been attached to Dyaus were then transferred to Indra." The opinion that Indra has taken the place of Dyaus is now pretty generally believed, and the above explanation appears natural.
Of Prithivi we hear again. The "Vishnu Purāna" †
gives the following account of her birth. There was a king named Venā, notorious for his wickedness and general neglect of religious duties. When the Rishis of that age could bear with his impiety no longer, they slew him. But now a worse evil happened; anarchy prevailed, and they felt that a bad king was better than none at all. Upon this they rubbed the thigh of Venā, when there came forth a black dwarf, resembling a negro in appearance. Immediately after his birth the dwarf asked, "What am I to do?" He is told, "Nisīda" (sit down), and from this his descendants are called "Nisidis" unto this day. The corpse was now pure, as all sin had left it in the body of this black dwarf. The right arm was then rubbed, and from it there came a beautiful shining prince, who was named Prithu, and reigned in the place of his father. Now during his reign there was a terrible famine. As the Earth would not yield her fruits, great distress prevailed. Prithu said, "I will slay the Earth, and make her yield her fruits." Terrified at this threat, the Earth assumed the form of a cow, and was pursued by Prithu, even to the heaven of Brahmā. At length, weary with the chase, she turned to him and said, "Know you not the sin of killing a female, that you thus try to slay me?" The king replied that "when the happiness of many is secured by the destruction of one malignant being, the slaughter of that being is an act of virtue." "But," said the Earth, "if, in order to promote the welfare of your subjects, you put an end to me, whence, best of monarchs, will thy people derive their support?" Overcome at length, the Earth declared that all vegetable products were old, and destroyed by her, but that at the king's command she would restore them "as developed from her milk." "Do you, therefore, for the benefit of mankind, give me that
calf by which I may be able to secrete milk. Make also all places level, so that I may cause my milk, the seed of all vegetation, to flow everywhere around."
Prithu acted upon this advice. "Before his time there was no cultivation, no pasture, no agriculture, no highways for merchants; all these things (or all civilization) originated in the reign of Prithu. Where the ground was made level, the king induced his subjects to take up their abode. . . . He therefore having made Swayambhuva Manu the calf, milked the Earth, and received the milk into his own hand, for the benefit of mankind. Thence proceeded all kinds of corn and vegetables upon which people now subsist. By granting life to the Earth, Prithu was as her father, and she thence derived the patronymic appellation Prithivi."
In a note Professor Wilson adds, * the commentator observes that "by the 'calf,' or Manu in that character, is typified the promoter of the multiplication of progeny;" Manu, as will be seen in the account of the Creation, being regarded by some of the Purānas as the first parent of mankind. This legend, with considerable variation, is found in most of the Purānas; Soma, Indra, Yama, and others taking the place of Manu as the calf, whilst Prithu's place as the milker is taken by the Rishis, Mitra, etc. In the same note Professor Wilson says, "These are all probably subsequent modifications of the original simple allegory, which typified the earth as a cow, who yielded to every class of beings the milk that they desired, or the object of their wishes."
It should be noticed that, later in the "Vishnu Purāna," Prithivi is said to have sprung from the foot of Vishnu.
13:* Muir, O. S. T., v. 23.
14:* Muir, O. S. T., v. 18.
14:† Page 103.
16:* "Vishnu Purāna," p. 104.