The Vishnu Purana, translated by Horace Hayman Wilson, , at sacred-texts.com
7. The Márkańd́eya Puráńa
7. Márkańd́a or Márkańd́eya Puráńa. "That Puráńa in which, commencing with the story of the birds that were acquainted with right and wrong, every thing is narrated fully by Márkańd́eya, as it was explained by holy sages in reply to the question of the Muni, is called the Márkańd́eya, containing nine thousand verses 55." This is so called from its
being in the first instance narrated by Márkańd́eya Muni, and in the second place by certain fabulous birds; thus far agreeing with the account given of it in the Matsya. That, as well as other authorities, specify its containing nine thousand stanzas; but my copy closes with a verse affirming that the number of verses recited by the Muni was six thousand nine hundred; and a copy in the East India Company's library has a similar specification. The termination is, however, somewhat abrupt, and there is no reason why the subject with which it ends should not have been carried on farther. One copy in the Company's library, indeed, belonging to the Guicowar's collection, states at the close that it is the end of the first Khańd́a, or section. If the Puráńa was ever completed, the remaining portion of it appears to be lost.
Jaimini, the pupil of Vyása, applies to Márkańd́eya to be made acquainted with the nature of Vásudeva, and for an explanation of some of the incidents described in the Mahábhárata; with the ambrosia of which divine poem, Vyása he declares has watered the whole world: a reference which establishes the priority of the Bhárata to the Márkańd́eya Puráńa, however incompatible this may be with the tradition, that having finished the Puráńas, Vyása wrote the poem.
Márkańd́eya excuses himself, saying he has a religious rite to perform; and he refers Jaimini to some very sapient birds, who reside in the Vindhya mountains; birds of a celestial origin, found, when just born, by the Muni Śamíka, on the field of Kurukshetra, and brought up by him along with his scholars: in consequence of which, and by virtue of their heavenly descent, they became profoundly versed in the Vedas, and a knowledge of spiritual truth. This machinery is borrowed from the Mahábhárata, with some embellishment. Jaimini accordingly has recourse to the birds, Pingáksha and his brethren, and puts to them the questions he had asked of the Muni. "Why was Vásudeva born as a mortal? How was it that Draupadí was the wife of the five Páńd́us? Why did Baladeva do penance for Brahmanicide? and why were the children of Draupadí destroyed, when they had Krishńa and Arjuna to defend them?" The answers to these inquiries occupy a number of chapters, and form a sort of supplement to the Mahábhárata; supplying,
partly by invention, perhaps, and partly by reference to equally ancient authorities, the blanks left in some of its narrations.
Legends of Vritrásura's death, Baladeva's penance, Hariśchandra's elevation to heaven, and the quarrel between Vaśisht́ha and Viswámitra, are followed by a discussion respecting birth, death, and sin; which leads to a more extended description of the different hells than is found in other Puráńas. The account of creation which is contained in this work is repeated by the birds after Márkańd́eya's account of it to Krosht́uki, and is confined to the origin of the Vedas and patriarchal families, amongst whom are new characters, as Duhsaha and his wife Mársht́i, and their descendants; allegorical personages, representing intolerable iniquity and its consequences. There is then a description of the world, with, as usual to this Puráńa, several singularities, some of which are noticed in the following pages. This being the state of the world in the Swáyambhuva Manwantara, an account of the other Manwantaras succeeds, in which the births of the Manus, and a number of other particulars, are peculiar to this work. The present or Vaivaswata Manwantara is very briefly passed over; but the next, the first of the future Manwantaras, contains the long episodical narrative of the actions of the goddess Durgá, which is the especial boast of this Puráńa, and is the text-book of the worshippers of Káli, Chańd́í, or Durgá, in Bengal. It is the Chańd́í Pátha, or Durgá Máhátmya, in which the victories of the goddess over different evil beings, or Asuras, are detailed with considerable power and spirit. It is read daily in the temples of Durgá, and furnishes the pomp and circumstance of the great festival of Bengal, the Durgá pujá, or public worship of that goddess 56.
After the account of the Manwantaras is completed, there follows a series of legends, some new, some old, relating to the sun and his posterity; continued to Vaivaswata Manu and his sons, and their immediate descendants; terminating with Dama, the son of Narishyanta 57. Of most of the persons noticed, the work narrates particulars not found elsewhere.
This Puráńa has a character different from that of all the others. It has nothing of a sectarial spirit, little of a religious tone, rarely inserting prayers and invocations to any deity, and such as are inserted are brief and moderate. It deals little in precepts, ceremonial or moral. Its leading feature is narrative, and it presents an uninterrupted succession of legends, most of which, when ancient, are embellished with new circumstances; and when new, partake so far of the spirit of the old, that they are disinterested creations of the imagination, having no particular motive; being designed to recommend no special doctrine or observance. Whether they are derived from any other source, or whether they are original inventions, it is not possible to ascertain. They are most probably, for the greater part at least, original; and the whole has been narrated in the compiler's own manner, a manner superior to that of the Puráńas in general, with exception of the Bhágavata.
It is not easy to conjecture a date for this Puráńa: it is subsequent to the Mahábhárata, but how long subsequent is doubtful. It is unquestionably more ancient than such works as the Brahmá, Padma, and Náradíya Puráńas; and its freedom from sectarial bias is a reason for supposing it anterior to the Bhágavata. At the same time, its partial conformity to the definition of a Puráńa, and the tenor of the additions which it has made to received legends and traditions, indicate a not very remote age; and, in the absence of any guide to a more positive conclusion, it may conjecturally be placed in the ninth or tenth century.
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xxxv:56 A translation into English by a Madras Pandit, Kávali Venkata Rámaswámi, was published at Calcutta in 1823.
xxxv:57 See Vishńu P., p. 253. n. 22.