Sri Satguru Publications

Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader In The Sanskrit Puranas

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There has been a clear need since Heinrich Zimmer’s Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization* for a textbook that would incorporate the classical statements of Hindu mythology, a comprehensive, if not exhaustive, selection of Indian accounts of their own cherished stories. This need has been felt and variously responded to. In recent years R.K.Narayan, in Gods, Demons and others, has given an excellent version of his own beloved lore. James Kirk, also with a southern Indian emphasis, has retold some very fine tales in his stories of the Hindus. In her Hindu Myths, $ Wendy O’Flaherty has dug more ambitiously into Veda, Epic and Purana with an historical perspective on the vagaries of Hindu mythography. In addition, cultural anthropologists have shown more and more interest in the ways little communities relate to a larger network of cultures and even civilizations (“Great Traditions”), but their large knowledge about small societies has often found pause before their unfamiliarity with the larger traditions. The historians of Indian art, on the other hand, have built up an architecture of Hindu mythology so magisterial that it has become almost a closed world to the non-specialist.

The authors felt it might be useful to present those who are in-trigued by the myths of Indian civilization with representative classical texts. We did not expect to find a single origin for Hindu mythology, since sources abound in a veritey of media. The Sanskrit Puranas proved particularly useful for our purpose. If their very multitude suggests that there is no single original text for Hindu myths, their common language confirms that there is a single tongue

*Heinrich Zimmer, Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization (New York: Pantheon Books,1946)

+R.K.Narayan, Gods, Demons and others (New York:Viking Press, 1964)

+ James A.Kirk, Stories of the Hindu (New York:Macmillan, 1972).

Swendy Doniger O’Flaherty, Hindu Myths (Penguin Books,1975);in her appendices O’Flaherty has assembled an invaluable collection of bibliographical material concerning puranic mythology which we saw no need to duplicate in this volume.

In which their variety was collected. They are not original texts; with every vocative they make clear that they are told by teachers speaking to students who want to listen. And the very substance of this teaching consists of stories about the gods, or mythology, as we understand it.

Of course the Puranas themselves had their teachers too. The influence of the epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, has been profound; and on those teachers, the influence of the Veda is clear, though not always transparent. But we wanted to present the mythology of the Hindu tradition from a period later than the epics, much as it has been received ever since, too often told perhaps, but miraculously still fresh.

Moreover, the authors saw no need to duplicate materials that are already available, or are currently being translated, notably the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.*A Purana reader, besides being justifiable in itself, has the value of presenting texts not readily available to most people. While tradition ascribes to the Mahabharata a lakh of couplets, or one hundred thousand, to the Puranas it assigns a crore, or ten million. There are translations of some of this material. But not of all the eighteen Great Puranas, let alone the Minor Puranas. Thanks to the generosity of the Kashiraj Trust founded by the Markandeya, are also well edited. But it cannot be said that the Puranas are an open book even for the specialist.

The sheer mass of the materials imposed limitations on us. We has no intention of reproducing the contents of any single Purana, because each one includes, in a addition to mythology, a wealth of didactic, legal and moralistic material. In fact, their encyclopedic aspirations cover the breath of human knowledge for their place and time. In making our selections, we have used the Puranas most popular in the Hindu tradition itself; our chief sources have been the Visnu, Markandeya, Bhagavata, Matsya, Vamana and Kurma, and to a lesser extent the Brahmavaivarta, Siva and Garuda. With such an abundance of riches to choose from, the choice on occasion became simply a matter of balance. We could have used the Bhagavata more extensively on Krsna, for example, but since that text has been translated and anthologized often, the Visnu and Brahmavaivarta accounts seemed preferable.

We intend this book as a reader. Hence we have felt our responsibility to its readers quite strongly. Even though tempted, we have tried not to interpose a private interpretation between the text and its users. The introductions before each section seek mostly to describe and give guidance to the reader, whom oratorically, we presume to know very little. We hope to be forgiven for stating the obvious.

There are some cautions. Some of the Sanskrit text editions used are quite good; some are very poor. While we have attempted to render our texts accurately, there were times when the texts failed us, and emendation was necessary. The specialist will readily discern the course we have chosen. At the beginning of certain selections we have sometimes extended the sense of the text in the translation, to facilitate transitions between fragments. And although pleading the exigencies of space is poor justice, at time we have shortened stories because the alternative was to select a shorter but poorer version; the couplets omitted are indicated in the Notes on Sources. Contrariwise, we have not stinted on the variety of names attributed to a single deity, for identities in which each one is clothed. A glossary of names will, we hope, assist the reader.

While both authors stand behind the whole book, the reader needs to know the division of labor between them. The initiative for the book was taken by Cornelia Dimmitt, who located and selected the texts, and who is largely responsible for the content of the introductions. The translation itself has been wholly collaborative.


Back of the Book

The Mahapuranas embody the received tradition of Hindu mythology. This anthology contains fresh translations of these myths, only a few of which have ever been available in English before, thus providing a rich new portion of Hindu mythology.

The book is organized into six chapter.”Origins” contains myths relating to creation, time and space. ”seers, kings and Supernafurals” relates tales of rivers, trees, animals, demons, and men, particularly heroes and sages. Myths about the chief gods are dealt with in three separate chapters: “Krsna,” ”Visnu,” and Siva.”the chapter “the Goddess”presents stories of the wives and lovers of the gods, as well as of kali, the savage battle goddess.

In their introductions, the editors provide a historical setting in which to discuss Hindu mythology as well as a full analysis of its basic sources. The many names given the gods and goddess in the Sanskrit texts have been retained since their multiplicity is an essential part of the richness of the original. The editors have provided a thorough glossary to make these names accessible.

CORNELIA DIMITT is Assistant Professor of Theology at Georgetown University and a Core Faculty Member of the Washington, D.C. Consortium Program in History of Religions.


  Preface xiii
  The Puranas :An Introduction 3
1. Origins Introduction  
  The origin of Brahma from the Lotus in Visnu’s navel 30
  Prakrti and Purusa 31
  The Cosmic Egg 32
  The Origin of the World from Brahma 32
  The Four Heads of Brahma 34
  Purusa, the Cosmic Person 35
  The Origin and Nature of Time 36
  The Four Ages 38
  The Kali Age 41
  The Dissolution of the World in Visnu 41
  The Dissolution into Prakrti and Purusa 43
  The Shape of Space 45
  The Seven Heavens 46
  The Seven Netherworlds 48
  The Hells 49
  The Regions of Earth 52
  The Origin of the Seers and the Manus 55
  The Manvantaras 57
2. Visnu Introduction  
  The Four Forms of Visnu 66
  The Twelve Avataras of Visnu 67
  The Twenty-Two Avataras of Visnu 68
  The Avataras of Visnu and the Story of Anasuya 69
  Matsya, the Fish 71
  Kurma, the Tortoise 74
  Varaha, the Boar 75
  Narasimha, the Man-Lion 76
  Aditi and the Birth of Vamana, the Dwarf 79
  Vamana, the Dwarf, and Bali 80
  Parasurman, Rama with the Axe 82
  Rama in the Ramayana 85
  Krsna in the Mahabharata 88
  Vaikuntha, Visnu’s Celestial City 90
  Sudarsana, Visnu’s Discus 91
  Bali and Sudarsana, the Discus 93
  The Churning of the Ocean 94
  Visnu and Sri 98
3. Krsna Introduction  
  The Conception of Krsna 106
  The Birth of Krsna 109
  Putana, the Child Killer 111
  The Naughty Children Rama and Krsna; the Move to Vrndavana 112
  Kaliya, the Snake 114
  Mount Govardhana 116
  Conversation with the Cowherds 117
  Krsna and Radha 118
  The Theft of the Clothes 122
  The Rasalila Dance 124
  Radha and the Dance 127
  The Departure of Krsna 130
  The plotting of Kamsa 131
  The invitation to Rama and krsna 132
  The Hunchbacked Girl 133
  The Death of Kamsa 134
  The Building of Dvaraka 138
  The Longing of the Cowherd Women for Krsna 139
  The Abduction of Rukmini 140
  Pradyumna and the Fish 141
  The End of the Yadavas 142
4. Siva Introduction  
  The Origin of Rudra, the Howler 155
  The Birth of Parvati 157
  The Test of Parvati’s Tapas 161
  The Betrothal of Siva and Parvati 164
  The Wedding of Siva and Parvati 167
  Daksa’s Insult 171
  The Destruction o Daksa’s Sacrifice 174
  Ganesa 179
  Karttikeya 185
  Sukra 188
  The Burning of Tripura 189
  Sunartaka the Dancer 198
  The Tandava Dance of Siva 200
  The Dance of Siva in the Sky 202
  The sages of the Pine Forest 203
  Brahma, Visnu and the Linga of Siva 205
  The Skull –Bearer 206
  Kamadeva, the God of Love 209
  The Illusions of Siva 212
  The Weapons of Siva 213
  The Origin of Women 215
  Hari- Hari 216
5. The Goddess Introduction  
  The Blazing Tower of Splendor 227
  Siva and Sakti; the Great Goddess 229
  The Demons Madhu and Kaitabha 232
  The Origin of the Goddess from the Gods 233
  The Death of Mahisa, the Buffalo Demon 237
  The Birth of Kali and the Final Battel 238
  Bhadrakali and the Thieves 240
  Sarasvati and King Navaratha 241
6. Seers,Kings And Supernaturals Introduction  
  Markandeya and the Cosmic Ocean 253
  Narada 256
  Kandu 258
  Sukra and Kaca 262
  Agastya and Vasistha 265
  Vasistha and Visvamitra 30
  Prthu and the Milking of the Earth 268
  IIa and Sudyumna 269
  Pururavas and Urvasi 271
  Hariscandra and His Son 273
  Hariscandra and Visvamitra 274
  Pariksit 286
  Yayati 288
  Viduratha 292
  Saubhari 295
  Sakuntala 297
  Vedic Gods and Demons  
  The Mandehas at Twilight 298
  The Battle between the Gods and Demons 299
  Indra and Vrtra 303
  Dadhici’s Bones 306
  Diti and the Maruts 307
  The Seers’s Wives and the Maruts 308
  Soma 310
  Prahlada and Hiranyakasipu 312
  Indra and the Ants 320
  Rivers and Sacred Fords  
  The Descent of the Ganges River 322
  The Hermitage of Atri 323
  The River Sarasvati and Kuruksetra 327
  The River Yamuna 329
  The Virtues of Varanasi 330
  Varanasi and the Yaksa 331
  The Pilgrimage of Siva to Varanasi 334
  Gaya 336
  Prayaga 337
  The Fathers 340
  The Mothers 342
  Garuda 345
  Denizens of the Netherworlds 347
  Glossary 351
  Notes on Sources 361
  Bibliography of Sanskrit Puranas 365
  Index 367


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