The Vishnu Purana, translated by Horace Hayman Wilson, , at sacred-texts.com
Description of the earth. The seven Dwípas and seven seas. Jambu-dwípa. Mount Meru: its extent and boundaries. Extent of Ilávrita. Groves, lakes, and branches of Meru. Cities of the gods. Rivers. The forms of Vishńu worshipped in different Varshas.
MAITREYA.--You have related to me, Brahman, the creation of Swáyambhuva; I am now desirous to hear from you a description of the earth: how many are its oceans and islands, its kingdoms and its mountains, its forests and rivers and the cities of the gods, its dimensions, its contents, its nature, and its form.
PARÁŚARA.--You shall hear, Maitreya, a brief account of the earth from me: a full detail I could not give you in a century.
The seven great insular continents are Jambu, Plaksha, Sálmali, Kuśa, Krauncha, Śáka, and Pushkara: and they are surrounded severally by seven great seas; the sea of salt water (Lavańa), of sugar-cane juice (Ikshu), of wine (Surá), of clarified butter (Sarpi), of curds (Dadhi), of milk (Dugdha), and of fresh water (Jala) 1.
Jambu-dwípa is in the centre of all these: and in the centre of this continent is the golden mountain Meru. The height of Meru is eighty-four thousand Yojanas; and its depth below the surface of the earth is
sixteen thousand. Its diameter at the summit is thirty-two thousand Yojanas; and at its base, sixteen thousand: so that this mountain is like the seed-cup of the lotus of the earth 2.
The boundary mountains (of the earth) are Himaván, Hemakút́a, and Nishadha, which lie south of Meru; and Níla, Śweta, and Śringí, which are situated to the north of it. The two central ranges (those next to Meru, or Nishadha and Níla) extend for a hundred thousand (Yojanas, running east and west). Each of the others diminishes ten thousand Yojanas, as it lies more remote from the centre. They are two thousand Yojanas in height, and as many in breadth 3. The Varshas or countries between these ranges are Bhárata (India), south of the Himaván mountains;
next Kimpurusha, between Himaván and Hemakút́a; north of the latter, and south of Nishadha, is Hariversha; north of Meru is Ramyaka, extending from the Níla or blue mountains to the Śweta (or white) mountains; Hirańmaya lies between the Śweta and Śringí ranges; and Uttarakuru is beyond the latter, following the same direction as Bhárata 4. Each of these is nine thousand Yojanas in extent. Ilávrita is of similar dimensions, but in the centre of it is the golden mountain Meru, and the country extends nine thousand Yojanas in each direction from the four sides of the mountain 5. There are four mountains in this Varsha, formed as buttresses to Meru, each ten thousand Yojanas in elevation: that on the east is called Mandara; that on the south, Gandhamádana; that on the west, Vipula; and that on the north, Supárśwa 6: on each of these stands severally a Kadamba-tree, a Jambu-tree, a Pípal, and a Vat́a 7; each spreading over eleven hundred Yojanas, and towering aloft like banners on the mountains. From the Jambu-tree the insular continent Jambu-dwípa derives its appellations. The apples of that tree are as large as elephants: when they are rotten, they fall upon the crest of the mountain, and from their expressed juice is formed the Jambu river, the waters of which are drunk by the inhabitants; and in consequence of drinking of that stream, they pass their days in content and health, being subject neither to perspiration, to foul odours, to decrepitude, nor organic decay. The soil on the banks of the river, absorbing the Jambu juice, and being dried by gentle breezes, becomes the gold termed Jámbunada, of which the ornaments of the Siddhas are fabricated.
The country of Bhadráśwa lies on the east of Meru, and Ketumála on the west; and between these two is the region of Ilávrita. On the east of the same is the forest Chaitraratha; the Gandhamádana wood is on the south; the forest of Vaibhrája is on the west; and the grove of Indra, or Nandana, is on the north. There are also four great lakes, the waters of which are partaken of by the gods, called Aruńoda, Mahábhadra, Śítoda, and Mańasa 8.
The principal mountain ridges which project from the base of Meru, like filaments from the root of the lotus, are, on the east, Śítánta, Mukunda, Kurarí, Mályaván, and Vaikanka; on the south, Trikút́a, Śiśira, Patanga, Ruchaka, and Nishadha; on the west, Śikhivásas, Vaidúrya, Kapila, Gandhamádana, and Járudhi; and on the north, Śankhakút́a, Rishabha, Nága, Hansa, and Kálanjara. These and others extend from between the intervals in the body, or from the heart, of Meru 9.
On the summit of Meru is the vast city of Brahmá, extending fourteen thousand leagues, and renowned in heaven; and around it, in the cardinal points and the intermediate quarters, are situated the stately cities of Indra and the other regents of the spheres 10. The capital of Brahmá
is enclosed by the river Ganges, which, issuing from the foot of Vishńu, and washing the lunar orb, falls here from the skies 11, and, after encircling the city, divides into four mighty rivers, flowing in opposite directions. These rivers are the Śítá, the Alakanandá, the Chakshu, and the Bhadrá. The first, falling upon the tops of the inferior mountains, on the east side of Meru, flows over their crests, and passes through the country of Bhadráśwa to the ocean: the Alakanandá flows south, to the country of Bhárata, and, dividing into seven rivers on the way, falls into the sea: the Chakshu falls into the sea, after traversing all the western mountains, and passing through the country of Ketumála: and the
[paragraph continues] Bhadrá washes the country of the Uttara kurus, and empties itself into the northern ocean 12.
Meru, then, is confined between the mountains Níla and Nishadha (on the north and south), and between Mályaván and Gandhamádana (on the west and east 13): it lies between them like the pericarp of a lotus. The countries of Bhárata, Ketumála, Bhadráśwa, and Uttarakuru lie, like leaves of the lotus of the world, exterior to the boundary mountains. Jat́hara and Devakút́a are two mountain ranges, running north and south, and connecting the two chains of Nishadha and Níla. Gandhamádana
and Kailása extend, east and west, eighty Yojanas in breadth, from sea to sea. Nishadha and Páriyátra are the limitative mountains on the west, stretching, like those on the east, between the Níla and Nishadha ranges: and the mountains Triśringa and Járudhi are the northern limits of Meru, extending, east and west, between the two seas 14. Thus I have repeated to you the mountains described by great sages as the boundary mountains, situated in pairs, on each of the four sides of Meru. Those also, which have been mentioned as the filament mountains (or spurs), Śítánta and the rest, are exceedingly delightful. The vallies embosomed amongst them are the favourite resorts of the Siddhas and Chárańas: and there are situated upon them agreeable forests, and pleasant cities, embellished with the palaces of Vishńu, Lakshmí, Agni, Súrya, and other deities, and peopled by celestial spirits; whilst the Yakshas, Rákshasas, Daityas, and Dánavas pursue their pastimes in the vales. These, in short, are the regions of Paradise, or Swarga, the seats of the righteous, and where the wicked do not arrive even after a hundred births.
In the country of Bhadráśwa, Vishńu resides as Hayasírá (the horse-headed); in Ketumála, as Varáha (the boar); in Bhárata, as the tortoise (Kúrma); in Kuru, as the fish (Matsya); in his universal form, every where; for Hari pervades all places: he, Maitreya, is the supporter of all things; he is all things. In the eight realms of Kimpurusha and the rest (or all exclusive of Bhárata) there is no sorrow, nor weariness, nor anxiety, nor hunger, nor apprehension; their inhabitants are exempt from all infirmity and pain, and live in uninterrupted enjoyment for ten or twelve thousand years. Indra never sends rain upon them, for the earth abounds with water. In those places there is no distinction of Krita, Treta, or any succession of ages. In each of these Varshas there are respectively seven principal ranges of mountains, from which, oh best of Brahmans, hundreds of rivers take their rise 15.
166:1 The geography of the Puráńas occurs in most of these works; and in all the main features, the seven Dwípas, seven seas, the divisions of Jambu-dwípa, the situation and extent of Meru, and the subdivisions of Bhárata, is the same. The Agni and Bráhma are word for word the same with our text; and the Kúrma, Linga, Matsya, Márkańd́eya, and Váyu present many passages common to them and the Vishńu, or to one another. The Váyu, as usual, enters most fully into particulars. The Bhágavata differs in its nomenclature of the subordinate details from all, and is followed by the Padma. The others either omit the subject, or advert to it but briefly. The Mahábhárata, Bhíshma Parva, has an account essentially the same, and many of the stanzas are common to it and different Puráńas. It does not follow the same order, and has some peculiarities; one of which is calling Jambu-dwípa, Sudarśana, such being the name of the Jambu-tree: it is said also to consist of two portions, called Pippala and Śaśa, which are reflected in the lunar orb, as in a mirror.
167:2 The shape of Meru, according to this description, is that of an inverted cone; and by the comparison to the seed-cup its form should be circular: but there seems to be some uncertainty upon this subject amongst the Pauráńics. The Padma compares its form to the bell-shaped flower of the Dhatura. The Váyu represents it as having four sides of different colours; or, white on the east, yellow on the south, black on the west, and red on the north; but notices also various opinions of the outline of the mountain, which, according to Atri, had a hundred angles; to Bhrigu, a thousand: Sávarni calls it octangular; Bháguri, quadrangular; and Varsháyani says it has a thousand angles: Gálava makes it saucer-shaped; Garga, twisted, like braided hair; and others maintain that it is circular. The Linga makes its eastern face of the colour of the ruby; its southern, that of the lotus; its western, golden; and its northern, coral. The Matsya has the same colours as the Váyu, and both contain this line: 'Four-coloured, golden, four-cornered lofty:' but the Váyu compares its summit, in one place, to a saucer; and observes that its circumference must be thrice its diameter. The Matsya also, rather incompatibly, says the measurement is that of a circular form, but it is considered quadrangular. According to the Buddhists of Ceylon, Meru is said to be of the same diameter throughout. Those of Nepal conceive it to be shaped like a drum. A translation of the description of Meru and its surrounding mountains, contained in the Brahmáńd́a, which is the same exactly as that in the Váyu, occurs in the As. Researches, VIII. 343. There are some differences in Col. Wilford's version from that which my MSS. would authorize, but they are not in general of much importance. Some, no doubt, depend upon variations in the readings of the different copies: of others, I must question the accuracy.
167:3 This diminution is the necessary consequence of the diminished radius of the circle of Jambu-dwípa, as the mountain ranges recede from the centre.
168:4 These, being the two outer Varshas, are said to take the form of a bow; that is, they are exteriorly convex, being segments of the circle.
168:5 The whole diameter of Jambu-dwípa has been said to be 100,000 Yojanas. This is thus divided from north to south: Ilávrita, in the centre, extends each way 9000, making 18000: Meru itself; at the base, is 16000: the six Varshas, at 9000 each, are equal to 54000: and the six ranges, at 2000 each, are 12000: and 18 + 16 + 54 + 12 = 100. From east to west the Varshas are of the extent necessary to occupy the space of the circle.
168:6 The Bhágavata and Padma call these Mandara, Merumandara, Supárśwa, and Kumuda.
168:7 Nauclea Kadamba, Eugenia Jambu, Ficus religiosa, and F. Indica. The Bhágavata substitutes a mango-tree for the Pípal; placing it on Mandara, the Jambu on Merumandara, the Kadamba on Supárśwa, and the Vat́a on Kumuda.
169:8 The Bhágavata substitutes Sarvatobhadra for the Gandhamádana forest; and calls the lakes, lakes of milk, honey, treacle, and sweet water.
169:9 The Váyu gives these names, and many more; and describes at great length forests, lakes, and cities of gods and demigods upon these fabulous mountains, or in the valleys between them. (As. Res. VIII. 354.)
169:10 The Lokapálas, or eight deities in that character, Indra, Yama, Varuńa, Kuvera, Vivaswat, Soma, Agni, and Váyu. Other cities of the gods are placed upon the spurs, or filament mountains, by the Váyu; or that of Brahmá on Hemaśringa, of Śankara on Kálanjara, of Garud́a on Vaikanka, and of Kuvera on Kailása. Himavat is also specified by the same work as the scene of Śiva's penance, and marriage with Umá; of his assuming the form of a Kiráta, or forester: of the birth of Kártikeya, in the Śara forest; and of his dividing the mountain Krauncha with his spear. This latter legend, having been somewhat misunderstood by Col. Wilford, is made the theme of one of his fanciful verifications. "Here, he (the author of the Váyu) says, in the forest of Śankha, was born Shad́ánana or Kártikeya, Mars with six faces. Here he wished or formed the resolution of going to the mountains of Crauncha, Germany, part of Poland, &c. to rest and recreate himself after his fatigues in the wars of the gods with the giants. There, in the skirts of the mountains p. 170 of Crauncha, he flung his sword; the very same which Attila, in the fifth century, asserted he had found under a clod of earth. It was placed in his tomb, where it is probably to be found." As. Res. VIII. 364. The text of which this is in part a representation is, ###. The legend here alluded to is told at length in the Vámana Puráńa. Mahishásura, flying from the battle, in which Táraka had been slain by Kártikeya, took refuge in a cave in the Krauncha mountain. A dispute arising between Kártikeya and Indra, as to their respective prowess, they determined to decide the question by circumambulating the mountain; the palm to be given to him who should first go round it. Disagreeing about the result, they appealed to the mountain, who untruly decided in favour of Indra. Kártikeya, to punish his injustice, hurled his lance at the mountain Krauncha, and pierced at once it and the demon Mahisha. Another division of Krauncha is ascribed to Paraśuráma. Megha Dúta, v.59. Krauncha is also sometimes considered to be the name of an Asura, killed by Kártikeya; but this is perhaps some misapprehension of the Pauráńic legend by the grammarians, springing out of the synonymes of Kártikeya, Kraunchári, Kraunchadárańa, &c., implying the foe or destroyer of Krauncha, occurring in the Amara, and other Koshas.
170:11 The Bhágavata is more circumstantial. The river flowed over the great toe of Vishńu's left foot, which had previously, as he lifted it up, made a fissure in the shell of the mundane egg, and thus gave entrance to the heavenly stream. The Váyu merely brings it from the lunar orb, and takes no notice of Vishńu's interposition. In a different passage it describes the detention of Gangá amidst the tresses of Śiva, in order to correct her arrogance, until the divinity was moved by the penance and prayers of king Bhagíratha to set her free. The Mahábhárata represents Śiva's bearing the river for a hundred years on his head, merely to prevent its falling too suddenly on the mountains.
171:12 Although the Váyu has this account, it subsequently inserts another, which is that also of the Matsya and Padma. In this the Ganges, after escaping from Śiva, is said to have formed seven streams; the Naliní, Hládiní, and Pavaní going to the east; the Chakshu, Śítá, and Sindhu to the wrest; and the Bhágirathí to the south. The Mahábhárata calls them Vaswaukasára, Naliní, Pavaní, Gangá, Śítá, Sindhu, and Jambunadí. The more usual legend, however, is the first, and it offers some trace of actual geography. Mr. Faber, indeed, thinks that Meru, with the surrounding Varsha of Ilávrita, and its four rivers, is a representation of the garden of Eden. (Pagan Idolatry, I. 315.) However this may he, it seems not unlikely to have originated in some imperfect account of four great rivers flowing from the Himálaya, and the high lands north of that range, towards the cardinal points: the Bhadrá, to the north, representing the Oby of Siberia; and the Śítá, the river of China, or Hoangho. The Alakanandá is well known as a main branch of the Ganges, near its source; and the Chakshus is very possibly, as Major Wilford supposed, the Oxus. (As. Res. VIII. 309.) The printed copy of the Bhágavata, and the MS. Padma, read Bankshu; but the former is the more usual reading. It is said, in the Váyu, of Ketumála, through which this river runs, that it is peopled by various races of barbarians.
171:13 The text applies the latter name so variously as to cause confusion: it is given to one of the four buttresses of Meru, that on the south; to one of the filament mountains, on the west; to a range of boundary mountains, on the south; and to the Varsha of Ketumála: here another mountain range is intended, or a chain running north and south, upon the east of Ilávrita, connecting the Níla and Nishadha ranges. Accordingly the Váyu states it to be 34000 Yojanas in extent; that is, the diameter of Meru 16000, and the breadth of Ilávrita on each side of it, or together 18000. A similar range, that of Mályaván, bounds Ilávrita on the west. It was probably to avoid the confusion arising from similarity of. nomenclature, that the author of the Bhágavata substituted different names for Gandhamádana in the other instances, calling the buttress, as we have seen, Merumandara; the southern forest, Sarvatobhadra; and the filament mountain, Hansa; restricting the term Gandhamádana to the eastern range: a correction, it may be remarked, corroborative of a subsequent date.
172:14 These eight mountains are similarly enumerated in the Bhágavata and Váyu, but no mention is made in them of any seas, and it is clear that the eastern and western oceans cannot be intended, as the mountains Mályavat and Gandhamádana intervene. The commentator would seem to understand 'Arńava' as signifying 'mountain,' as he says between the seas means within Mályavat and Gandhamádana; The Bhágavata describes these eight mountains as circling Meru for 18000 Yojanas in each direction, leaving, according to the commentator, an interval of a thousand Yojanas between them and the base of the central mountain, and being 2000 high, and as many broad: they may be understood to be the exterior barriers of Meru, separating it from Ilávritta. The names of these mountains, according to the Bhágavata, are Jat́hara and Devakút́a on the east, Pavana and Parípátra on the west, Triśringa and Makara on the north, and Kailása and Karavíra on the south. Without believing it possible to verify the position of these different creations of the legendary geography of the Hindus, it can scarcely admit of doubt that the scheme was suggested by imperfect acquaintance with the actual character of the country, by the four great ranges, the Altai, Muztag or Thian-shan, Ku-en-nun, and Himálaya, which traverse central Asia in a direction from east to west, with a greater or less inclination from north to south, which are connected or divided by many lofty transverse ridges, which enclose several large lakes, and which give rise to the great rivers that water Siberia, China, Tartary, and Hindustan. (Humboldt on the mountains of Central Asia, and Ritter. Geogr. Asia.)
173:15 More ample details of the Varshas are given in the Mahábhárata, Bhágavata, Padma, Váyu, Kúrma, Linga, Matsya, and Márkańd́eya Puráńas; but they are of an entirely fanciful nature. Thus of the Ketumála-varsha it is said, in the Váyu, the men are black, the women of the complexion of the lotus; the people subsist upon the fruit of the Panasa or jack-tree, and live for ten thousand years, exempt from sorrow or sickness: seven Kula or main ranges of mountains in it are named, and a long list of countries and rivers is added, none of which can be identified with any actually existing, except perhaps the greats river the Suchakshus, the Amu or Oxus. According to the Bhágavata, Vishńu is worshipped as Kámadeva in Ketumála. The Váyu says the object of adoration there is Íśwara, the son of Brahmá. Similar circumstances are asserted of the other Varshas. See also As. Res. VIII. 352.